Málaga v Elche
La Rosaleda / Segunda División / 24th November 2019
A lot has happened in my football life since I finally witnessed Málaga win a home game a few weeks ago. Much of that triumph has come from my homeland.
Firstly, Swansea City overcame the enemy up the road by beating Cardiff 1-0 at the Liberty. Fair to say, I had a few beers that Sunday in honour of match winner Ben Wilmot. Then, just this past week, the big one happened: Wales made it to a major tournament for the second time in four years and only the second time in my life; not surprising really, as it’s still just the third time in their entire footballing history. Again, I enjoyed a few beers to toast those beautiful Welsh bastards who got us over the line.
Swansea and Wales were having a lovely time. Málaga were not.
In my last writings on Málaga, I wrote ‘the only way is up’ after the club went on an uncharacteristic two match winning run and clawed their way out of the relegation zone. I was naive to write ‘the only way is up’, as of course there were still four places below Málaga and so four steps to go fall back down. And Málaga have chosen to fall rather than climb in recent weeks, as they found themselves embedded in relegation again.
There’s been the usual uninspiring mix of 1-0 losses on the road and a 0-0 draw at home to Fuenlabrada (which was even more disappointing for me as former Swans hero Chico Flores, now at Fuenlabrada was ruled out for the away team – I’d been excited to see him play again all week). So, as we headed to La Rosaleda to watch Málaga take on mid-table Elche, I went expecting the usual goal-lite game we get at home. I thought wrong.
I enjoyed a couple of cañas with Ken, Mark and Irish Andrew in ‘Chinese Bar’, before heading up to Bar Hermanos Madrid to meet up with the Guiris. In both establishments, the feeling was not one of optimism. Some thought we might scrape a draw, but no-one dared predict a win.
The opening exchanges were the usual slow, uninspiring starts you expect at La Rosaleda this season. Málaga would make it interesting though, when left-back Mikel Villanueva decided to forget how to defend for an entire half.
After 20 minutes, a long ball towards Elche’s right winger saw Mikel running towards the touchline and somehow ending up on the wrong side of Josan Fernández, who now had a free run on goal. He skipped past Munir and the keeper just tripped him; definite penalty and the only really shock for us was that Munir only saw yellow and not a red. The penalty was buried and it was 1-0 to Elche. The Scottish man next to me looked like he was going to explode with rage every time Mikel touched the ball from here on in.
Minutes later, it was 2-0 and again it came from Elche’s right as Mikel let the ball come in and after a little scramble, the ball was neatly deposited in the Málaga net. The ultras started the cries of ‘Al-Thani vete ya!’ and the whole stadium soon joined in as the players walked back to the centre circle.
I feared the worse now, but fairplay to the players, who kept their heads up and kept going with young Antoñín working his arse off again. He really is a brilliant player and would be – and will be – exceptional in a better team.
Málaga deservedly grabbed their first of the game just before half-time and what a finish it was. The ball fell to Juanpi at the edge of the box who laid the ball off to Dani Pacheco, who hit a brilliant low first time volley into the far corner. It was deserved and it was game on.
Optimism filled La Rosaleda in the second half and a goal looked a certainty for the home team. Years ago, Elche loaned Málaga Willy Caballero (now of Chelsea and formerly of Manchester City) and the Argentinian keeper would go onto to be loved at Málaga. Elche were less kind with their goalie today, as he made it a one man mission to keep Elche in the lead. There were a few great saves, but the save he made to deny a Sadiku close range volley was insanely good.
Just as the optimism was swelling in the stadium, Elche delivered a sucker punch from nowhere; well, it wasn’t from nowhere really – it was from the right wing again as Mikel let a cross come in again. A simple close range header and it was 3-1.
“AL-THANI VETE YA! AL-THANI VETE YA!”
Málaga have only scored 2 goals in 3 games this season and not once have they reached the heady heights of scoring 3 goals, so the situation looked hopeless here. Yet again though, the team were not accepting this sitting down, as the players put their heads down and fought.
Undoubtedly, Málaga’s best player on the day was Juankar, who appeared to enjoy the freedom of playing left-wing rather his usual, more energy-sapping wing back. He caused absolute havoc and always seemed to find himself free. Málaga recognised this and used it throughout. It was Juankar jinking through the box that brought a penalty to the home side. A cheer arose from the home fans, although a few had slightly grave looks on their faces as it soon dawned on us that usual penalty taker Adrián was not playing and Sadiku was stepping up. I feared the worst, but Sadiku coolly put it down the middle to make to make it 2-1.
The stadium was bouncing now and full of noise and an equaliser felt inevitable. Minutes after the penalty, the inevitable went crashing in; the equaliser came as Antoñín rose high to header home from close range. There was to be some redemption for Mikel too, as he played in a delightful cross to assist the goal (an assist chorused with, “Don’t give the fucking ball to him” from the Scotsman next to me). 3-3! Like thunder, the ground shook.
3-3 and it really felt like Málaga were going to win as there was still over 5 minutes left. Elche’s manager, Pacheta, commented after the game on how awed he was by the noise of the Málaga support and the Malaguistas’ roar felt like it would urge the ball into the net. Sadly, no further goal was coming and a pulsating game – most certainly the best at La Rosaleda this season by a long distance – ended 3-3.
It really did feel like points dropped, but just as I finished my last blog about a game at La Rosaleda, it felt like a note of optimism to build upon. Whether the team choose to build on this in the coming weeks, remains to be seen.
It felt like points dropped, but equally a pointed gained from being 3-1 down. Of course, more importantly, the point rescued meant we all headed back to the Tavern for our free pacharán because points always mean pacharán.