Málaga CF began the night as UEFA Champions League new boys and ended it looking like competition veterans thanks to an exhilarating defeat of FC Zenit St Petersburg.
Not only were the hosts powered to victory thanks to a sparkling pair of goals from 20-year-old Isco – the first within three minutes – Javier Saviola also chipped in with his second in three days to make it a debut to remember for Manuel Pellegrini's men. The Spanish side therefore take the early initiative in Group C while Zenit must look to regroup against seven-time champions AC Milan on matchday two.
The opening spell was blistering and brilliant. Pellegrini's team dazzled with their confidence and vision, culminating in the first goal of this season's group stage. Isco danced away from Aleksandr Anyukov to impishly bend a shot round both Bruno Alves and goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev, and prompt a primal roar from the delighted home fans.
Zenit had served notice of their intent with their summer outlay in the transfer market and one of their new arrivals almost brought them level immediately. Hulk showed he has character as well as talent with a thunderous left-foot shot that came back off the crossbar.
Yet it took only ten minutes for Málaga's constant probing to pay off again. Francisco Portillo found Jesús Gámez's run down the right and the wing back showed laudable vision to slide a pass in behind both centre-backs for the lurking Saviola to prod in. Such was the superiority of the Andalusian side that they could have added even more goals, with Zenit struggling to cope with the tempo. Joaquín and Isco created a chance for Saviola which Malafeev somehow blocked at point-blank range.
However, the pattern changed as Málaga continued to carve out, and miss, opportunities, Zenit belatedly finding their feet. Before half-time Hulk had threatened again, home goalkeeper Willy Cabellero showed good reflexes to save from Aleksandr Kerzhakov, and Roman Shirokov and Nicolas Lombaerts went close with headers.
It began to look as if their profligacy might catch Málaga out and allow the Russian champions to profit. Kerzakhov ruffled the side netting with a fierce drive just ahead of the break, and Caballero again did excellently to dive at the feet of both Vladimir Bystrov and Kerzhakov.
Eliseu then wasted a one-on-one chance to make Málaga's win secure, yet Isco was swiftly on hand to rescue his colleague. With 14 minutes left the midfielder glided onto a Joaquín pass and thumped a shot into the top corner. Duda almost added a crowning fourth, his header striking the crossbar, but Málaga's dream debut was already assured.
©UEFA.com 1998-2016. All rights reserved.