FC Porto made their greater UEFA Champions League experience count against Málaga CF as João Moutinho scored the only goal of an intense and high-quality round of 16 match in Portugal.
Moutinho's beautifully conceived, and finished, strike just before the hour finally punctured the resolute defending of Manuel Pellegrini's Málaga, who will nevertheless feel they have a chance to turn things around in the return leg at La Rosaleda on 13 March.
The Andalusian side had lost to Porto's neighbours Boavista FC on penalties in the 2002/03 UEFA Cup quarter-finals on their only previous visit to Spain, and this always had the feeling of being a similarly tight affair. Porto's January signing Marat Izmailov began brightly on his UEFA Champions League debut for the club, jinking clear of centre-backs Weligton and Martín Demichelis on the edge of the area in the fourth minute before hitting a low shot that Willy dived to smother.
In a cagey opening period, neither team showed too much of the verve that had characterised their group stage performances. Porto's Fernando and Málaga's Jérémy Toulalan were the key figures in the respective midfields, and the hosts' defensive anchor even came close to breaking the deadlock with a rare goal in the 18th minute as he narrowly failed to connect after Silvestre Varela had flicked on Moutinho's corner.
Danilo was more regularly involved in Porto's attacks, the Brazilian right-back curling an attempt wide of Willy's right-hand post. Málaga were displaying every bit of the defensive resolve that kept them unbeaten in the group stage as they limited the Portuguese champions to shots from range, with Izmailov the next to try his luck moments before the interval.
The second half started in similar vein, though Málaga were almost undone in the 52nd minute when Izmailov sneaked onto Varela's inviting cross at the back post but guided his touch centimetres wide with Willy beaten.
Four minutes later it was another raid from out wide that did the trick. The excellent Alex Sandro won the ball in midfield and powered to the left, before delivering the perfect low ball into the middle where the advancing Moutinho slotted under Willy.
Porto promptly moved to press home their advantage, bringing on James Rodríguez for Varela. The Colombian was quickly involved, having one left-foot strike deflected just wide of the upright. Despite the best efforts of fellow substitute Christian Atsu and the omnipresent Jackson Martínez, it stayed at a one-goal margin, setting up an intriguing night in Spain.
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