In the Champions League for the first time in the club's history and facing a one-year ban from UEFA competitions for financial troubles, Malaga took a 2-1 lead over Borussia Dortmund into injury time. It would've been a tremendous upset for a side that had to sell off Santi Cazorla and Nacho Monreal, but Dortmund provided a shock of their own by going on to score twice in two minutes to advance the semifinals with a goal that could've easily been disallowed for being offside (for the record, Malaga's second could've too).
It was a cruel end to a grueling series of events for Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini, who stoically navigated his own personal sadness that went far behind lost matches or his club's financial constraints. Over the weekend, the 59-year-old flew from Spain to his native Chile for his father's funeral. Though he learned of his father's passing before Saturday's match against Real Sociedad, he only told his captains after completing his post-match press conference. The services were on Monday, so there was some uncertainty as to whether he would make the Dortmund match as he couldn't fly out to Germany until the day of the game.
In his absence, Pellegrini's squad declared their intent to win for their manager. From Reuters:
Malaga defender Martin Demichelis said Pellegrini, who flew back after a 4-2 defeat to Real Sociedad on Saturday in La Liga, had not told his players anything before that game.
"He will be with us tomorrow and we will try everything to advance for him," Demichelis told reporters.
"We would like to win this one for him. First our coach did not tell us about his father passing away, that shows his greatness."
They came as close as possible without actually completing the task, but in the end it just didn't work out. Pellegrini got Villarreal to the Champions League semifinals in their first appearance in the 2005/06 season, but this time circumstances conspired against him. While Malaga's president claimed racism against Spanish clubs, a weary Pellegrini made some serious accusations of his own. From Inside Spanish Football:
“After it was 1-2, there was no officiating. There were elbows and shoving and kicking the ball back, the linesman didn’t call any fouls or anything. There were two offsides on the final goal and he should have thrown out Bender and Schmelzer, but he didn’t. We are left with a bitter taste in our mouths. It’s hard to imagine that a UEFA-sanctioned team could play in the finals of the Champions League. Surely, they had to put a ceiling. [...]
“Football shows that there are a lot of mitigating factors. We played a great game but they (UEFA) either couldn’t or didn’t want us to win.”
The post-match conspiracy theories shouldn't take away from what the underrated Pellegrini has accomplished here, though. Again, this is man who has been forced to work with far less than any other manager at this stage of the tournament (even Galatasaray were able to go out and buy a couple of superstars in January instead of selling off talent) under a roving cloud of doom and negativity. So while Jurgen Klopp and Dortmund deserve heaps of praise for their determination and comeback, spare an accolade for Manuel Pellegrini and his Malaga squad too.