This was "the most important game" in Málaga's franchise history, according to Fernando Hierro and the rest of the malagueño front office. And they did not disappoint: they defeated perennial third-place finisher Valencia 1-0 this evening at home, in a game marked by Málaga's grit and desire, and by Valencia's resignation. This result means that the two teams enter the last three matches in the Liga schedule tied for third place, though Valencia remains on top due to goal difference. Not that that matters hugely: the key effect that this will have on Málaga will be their automatic inclusion in next year's Champions League, a rare feet for such a young and newly-created club.
At the outset, Valencia seemed to have the upper hand over a Málaga side that looked nervous as they prepared for their Champions League push. Roberto Soldado was called offsides on a series of tremendous runs; had it not been for a few inches, they would have resulted in a couple of obvious scoring opportunities. In the 14th minute, however, Eliseu broke through Valencia's defense, and lashed a shot off Guaita's goal--while the play came against the run of play initially, it seemed to spark a renaissance for Málaga, who began to push up the field with more authority. Guaita was forced into action on a series of plays directly after the shot off the bar, and then on 27 minutes, Málaga struck. Gámez, streaking up from the right back position, dropped a cross into the center of the area; Camacho, who brilliantly jumped in front of the Valencia defense, knocked the ball in with his chest (or his back--it was unclear, even on replays).
After the goal, Valencia seemed to shrink away from the ball. They no longer looked like the confident, strong side that reached the semifinals of the Europa League. They looked like a team afraid of their predicament, scared of finishing out of the Champions League. And Málaga grew, spreading themselves over the field, attacking with intent.
The game would keep this dynamic, more or less, until the 61st minute, when Feghouli, Valencia's right midfielder, dropped an elbow on Eliseu and was rewarded with his second yellow card. After that, Valencia was never coming back. Málaga attacked, defended well on the counter, and was rewarded with a win in the most important match in their side's history.
A well deserved win for an exciting, up and coming side.