First Division - Day 17

Málaga 2 - Athletico Bilbao 1

Málaga: Contreras; Rojas, Larrainzar, Roteta, Valcarce; Rufete, Movilla, De los Santos, Agostinho (Iznata 64'); Darío Silva (Zárate 75'), Dely Valdés (Canabal 84'). 4-4-2.
Bilbao: Lafuente; Larrainzar, Roberto Rios, Oscar Vales, Lacruz; Yeste, Orbaiz (Tiko 84'), Felipe, Del Horno (Javi González 75'); Joseba Etxeberria, Urzaiz. 4-4-2.

Team changes: Málaga: Larrainzar, De los Santos for Bravo, Zárate / Bilbao: Del Horno, Felipe, Oscar Vales, Joseba Etxeberria for Larrazábal, Urrutia, Javi González, Tiko.

1-0. 16. Dely Valdés. Into empty net after Darío Silva blocked keeper's clearance.
2-0. 40. Dely Valdés. Dribbled past four defenders and shot low from edge of area.
2-1. 47. Yeste. First time shot after Urzaiz played ball back from by-line.

Two goals in the first half by Dely Valdés gave Málaga their fourth home victory in a row in this first league match of the millennium against Athletic Bilbao. Dely opened the scoring somewhat fortuitously after Darío Silva charged down a leisurely clearance by Bilbao's keeper Lafuente, the ball falling to the Panamanian striker with no defender in sight. The Bilbao defenders protested to García-Aranda as Darío had clearly blocked the ball with his arm as he jumped in front of Lafuente, but the referee ruled that the play had been accidental and awarded the goal. If the first was a stroke of luck, however, the second was a work of art, Dely picking up the ball outside of the area and beating four defenders one by one before firing a shot low past the outstretched keeper. It was Dely's ninth of the season, and the third time he had scored a brace in a match since arriving from Oviedo in the summer.

The half time scoreline flattered the home team, with Bilbao not able to put away their chances in the first 45 minutes. With several players injured, including Julen Guerrero, Ezquerro, Alkorta and Carlos García, and Larrazábal and Urrutia failing late fitness tests, Txetxu Rojo had put together a makeshift side which included seven defenders, and there was much speculation in the press as to who would play where. One player who was back for this match though was Joseba Etxeberria, and he almost surprised Málaga in the first minute with a shot which Roteta deflected around the post. Urzaiz was a constant menace, and after heading wide he unleashed a shot which cannoned against the crossbar. Rojo obviously didn't mince his words at half time, and Athletic came out of the tunnel even more motivated. Within two minutes they had pulled a goal back, Urzaiz this time the provider for Bilbao's new star, Fran Yeste, to score his fifth of the season.

The Málaga fans held their breath, remembering the game last season when Bilbao came back from behind to win 3-4. Rojo added an attacker Javi González, and Peiró replied by putting on the more defensive Zárate for Darío Silva, the Uruguayan picking up a silly yellow card (his fifth of the season) for time wasting after stopping to take off his shinpads before leaving the pitch. But with the newly nationalised De los Santos (back in the side after a one match suspension) giving his all, the home side held on to take the three points, leaving them temporarily in eighth place pending Sunday's results. The supporters gave their thanks to the Three Kings for granting their wishes, this being the day that presents are given in Spain rather than at Christmas time. And being the festive season, the players wished each other luck, non more so than the Larrainzar brothers, Txomin for Málaga and Iñigo for Bilbao, who finally faced each other in a match. Bilbao leave the South of Spain wondering what they have to do though to win away. Their last victory outside of the San Mames in the league was over nine months ago, and they drop once again into the second half of the table after recovering slightly in recent games. At least they have won a couple of away games in the cup, albeit against opposition from lower divisions, and next Wednesday they face Racing in the third round.