Malaga beats Zenit St. Petersburg

BY foxsports • September 18, 2012

Francisco ''Isco'' Alarcon scored twice in Malaga's 3-0 win over Zenit St. Petersburg on Tuesday, giving the Spanish team a dream Champions League debut 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 various 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 right 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 just 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.

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 half-hour to play, tapping 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 could have won by a wider margin, as Sergio ''Duda'' Barbosa clipped the crossbar with a bouncing header before the final whistle.