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Panathinaikos visit motivated Málaga

Málaga CF have lost some of their top players over the summer, but Manuel Pellegrini is not "making excuses" as Jesualdo Ferreira's Panathinaikos FC come to Andalusia.

Fabrice Olinga, 16, scored Málaga's first competitive goal of the season at the weekend
Fabrice Olinga, 16, scored Málaga's first competitive goal of the season at the weekend ©AFP/Getty Images

Málaga CF have lost some of the crown jewels of Manuel Pellegrini's squad over the summer, but the coach is not looking for excuses as his side meet Panathinaikos FC in the UEFA Champions League play-offs.

The likes of Santi Cazorla (Arsenal FC) and Joris Mathijsen (Feyenoord) have moved on since the club's fourth-placed finish in Spain last season, but while that has left Chilean coach Pellegrini with some gaps to fill, the 58-year-old is philosophical about the situation.

"The team is in good condition physically and mentally," he said. "When we qualified for the Champions League back in May, we expected to be playing this game under different circumstances, but this is how it is and we have to accept it. We won't be making excuses just because some important players have gone."

Striker Júlio Baptista (Achilles tendon) is a long-term injury absentee, but goalkeeper Carlos Kameni (hand) and defender Weligton (ankle) are expected to shake off lesser knocks in time for what former Villarreal CF and Real Madrid CF boss Pellegrini expects to be a close encounter.

"The income is very important for the club, but we are just focused on the match," he said. "The Champions League is the pinnacle of the football world and the players know what that means. Panathinaikos are better known than Málaga – they are a big team in Europe, with an experienced coach and some good quality players – but I think both teams are in a similar state, having done the pre-season and played some friendlies."

Málaga kicked off their domestic campaign with a 1-0 win at RC Celta de Vigo at the weekend, 16-year-old Fabrice Olinga scoring the only goal, with the Greek Super League to get under way on Saturday. Jesualdo Ferreira's Panathinaikos have been in Andalusia since Monday, and have no injury concerns, with Lazaros Christodoulopoulos confident he can play despite spraining an ankle on Friday. "I am fine," said the 25-year-old attacking midfielder. "I can play. Now it's up to the coach."

Ferreira was giving nothing away, preferring to focus on Wednesday's opponents. "Málaga have made huge strides – being in the Champions League would have been unthinkable three years ago. Panathinaikos have [249] European matches under their belts; Málaga are getting set for their first Champions League game. They have to be considered favourites as they finished fourth in a difficult league last season while we were disappointing, but history can inspire."

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