Malaga beats Zenit 3-0 in dream Champions debut

BY foxsports • September 18, 2012

Francisco ''Isco'' Alarcon scored twice in Malaga's 3-0 win over Zenit St. Petersburg on Tuesday, marking a perfect Champions League debut for the Spanish team after the exit of several star players during a turbulent offseason.

Malaga led 2-0 by the 13th minute after goals by Isco and Javier Saviola. Zenit had several chances but failed to finish them off, and Isco struck again in the 76th minute to seal the victory at La Rosaleda stadium.

Malaga was supposed to struggle this season after a financial about-face by its Qatari owners led to the sale of stars Santi Cazorla and Jose Rondon among other players.

Instead, Malaga is undefeated after seven games to be second in the Spanish league and top of Group C in club football's top European competition after AC Milan and Anderlecht drew 0-0 in the other match.

''We played a well-rounded game, myself and the entire team,'' said the 20-year-old Isco, who joined Malaga from Valencia last season as part of an expensive overhaul of its squad.

Isco gave credit for Malaga's unexpected start to coach Manuel Pellegrini.

''The coach has always shown his confidence in us and we stuck together as a team. That's the key to this victory,'' Isco said.

Isco set Malaga on its way with an exquisite individual effort in the third minute. The midfielder dribbled the ball into the box and curled a shot around goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev, the ball clipping the inside of the far post before settling in the net.

Hulk, making his first start for Zenit since joining from FC Porto, almost hit back two minutes later with a long blast that rattled the crossbar.

But the night was all Malaga's, with Saviola doubling the lead in the 13th. The Argentine forward, who recently arrived from Benfica, slipped behind Zenit's flatfooted defense to tap in Jesus Gamez's low cross with the ball again going in off the upright.

''Our defense did a splendid job, and we took an important step by winning at home and showing that this team can do good things in the Champions League,'' Saviola said.

Pellegrini, who led Villarreal to the semifinals in 2005-06, also applauded his defense which has only conceded two goals in five wins and two draws this season.

''Our defensive solidity is very important for us,'' said Pellegrini. ''We had a short lapse at the end of the first half, but in the second half we had more chances to extend the lead.''

''The team has been through a rough time, but that is what I am most proud of, that the team has seen its way through it.''

With Zenit stunned by Malaga's rollicking start, the hosts were on the verge of turning the match into a rout in the first half with Saviola almost scoring on three more occasions.

Zenit coach Luciano Spalletti didn't wait until halftime to replace defender Aleksandar Lukovic with midfielder Vladimir Bystrov to try and spark his team.

The visitors responded by claiming the initiative for the first time. Striker Aleksandr Kerzhakov forced a one-handed save from goalkeeper Willy Caballero, who then was in position to pull in Roman Shirokov's header moments later.

Caballero spoiled a seemingly certain goal for Kerzhakov with a half-hour to play, pushing away a pass from Bystrov destined for the Russian international in front of an open net.

Isco then secured the win with another brilliant show of skill, lashing an unstoppable strike from outside the area into the top right corner of the net.

''Malaga started the game very strong and we weren't prepared,'' said Spalletti. ''We are in a difficult period because my team doesn't fight on the pitch. The entire team needs to talk. We don't have the luxury of making any more mistakes.''

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