Malaga hero Eliseu pinching himself

Malaga hero Eliseu pinching himself

MADRID - Reuters
Malaga hero Eliseu pinching himself

Malaga’s Eliseu celebrates after scoring against Milan during a Champions League match. The Spanish club advanced to the last 16 after the draw. REUTERS photo

Malaga has come a long way since Eliseu joined the Andalusian club in 2007 and the Portuguese had to pinch himself after he scored the goal that put the Champions League debutants into the last 16 with two games to spare.

Eliseu’s strike in the 1-1 draw at seven-time winner AC Milan on Nov. 6, his third goal of the competition, was the latest step in a remarkable journey that began in Spain’s second division.

After joining from Portugal’s Belenenses, Eliseu helped Malaga win promotion back to the Spanish top flight and an injection of Qatari cash in 2010 has seen the team reach heights he could never have imagined.

He might even have missed the party as media reported he was seeking a move to Benfica in the pre-season amid speculation Malaga owner Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nassar Al Thani wanted to sell up and cashflow problems caused delays in wage payments.

After a summer of uncertainty, Al Thani has indicated he plans to continue investing in the club and in the Champions League knockout round the players now have the perfect platform to prove to him it will be worth the effort.

“It feels as if it were only yesterday that we were down in the second division fighting to the death,” Eliseu, who can play as a full back or midfielder and has a fearsome left-foot shot, said in an interview with Spanish TV after the Milan game.

“Now we are here sealing qualification in the San Siro, it’s a dream,” added the 29-year-old, who was born on the remote mid-Atlantic Azores islands.

“Now we have to hold on to our place and make sure of top spot in the group and we’ll continue to fight for that.”

With four of six matches played, Malaga have 10 points, with Milan on five, Anderlecht on four and Zenit on three.