Malaga routs Zaragoza 5-1 to move 5th in Spain

JOSEPH WILSON Associated Press Published:

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) -- Malaga shook off a slow start to rout last-place Zaragoza 5-1 and close to within one point of fourth-place Levante in the Spanish league on Saturday.

Levante, the early season sensation, won 2-1 at Espanyol thanks to Ruben Suarez's late free kick for its first victory of 2012.

Following a €60-million ($80-million) squad overhaul this summer, Malaga set its sights on a top-of-the-table finish to earn a spot in European competition next season. And with its eighth win in 12 home games, the Qatari-owned club moved one point ahead of Espanyol and Athletic Bilbao in the midst of the fight for Spain's last Champions League spot come next season.

Zaragoza struck first in the 23rd minute at La Rosaleda Stadium through Carlos Aranda's volley, and moments later goalkeeper Roberto Jimenez again stood out in his team's otherwise dire campaign with an excellent save of a point-blank shot by Joris Mathijsen.

But Roberto could do nothing to keep out the unmarked Seba Fernandez's header off a pass from Francisco "Isco" Alarcon just before halftime to level the score.

"It was very important to equalize in the last minute of a hard-fought first half," Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini said. "Zaragoza was firm in defense and had converted its only chance. The leveler calmed us down."

Malaga pressed forward and went in front for good in the 67th when Isco's cross took a deflection off Paulo Da Silva and caught Roberto out of position.

The stroke of bad luck left Zaragoza reeling and the hosts soon took advantage.

Defender Martin Demichelis turned a header off the post and into the net in the 77th, and with Zaragoza's defense in tatters Isco rifled in a deserved goal two minutes later before striker Jose Rondon sealed the demolition in the 88th.

"Zaragoza played well until the second goal," Zaragoza coach Manolo Jimenez said. "But I won't try to whitewash this. I'm ashamed."

Zaragoza appears destined to play next season in the second division as it sits 11 points from safety.

Later in Barcelona, Levante won by returning to the same combination of team defense and speed on the break that fueled its unheralded run to sit briefly atop the table to start the season.

Espanyol dominated possession but Levante remained disciplined in the back until Valmiro "Valdo" Lopes finished off a counterattack in the 24th with a shot from a tight angle that glanced the post before hitting the side of the net.

Substitute striker Kalu Uche appeared to have split the points with a header in the 75th, but Suarez's powerful free kick grazed a defender before bending around goalkeeper Kiko Casilla in the 88th to give Levante its first win in nine weeks.

"The three points are great coming after such a bad run of results," said Suarez, who has won two games this season with free kicks in the dying moments. "Our objectives are the same as ever, to stay up. We are keeping our feet on the ground."

Elsewhere, Racing Santander came from behind for a 1-1 home draw against Sporting Gijon in a relegation fight, while Getafe drew 1-1 at Real Betis after Jose Dorado's own goal canceled out Jorge Molina's opener for Betis as both teams stayed in the middle of the table.

Striker David Barral put Sporting ahead against the run of play when he blasted in a rising free kick for his eighth goal of the season in the 42nd minute.

Racing continued to show more initiative and Christian Stuani pulled the hosts even in the 74th with his fourth goal from the penalty spot of the season after being fouled by substitute defender Alejandro Galvez.

Racing remained 18th in the 20-team division while Sporting, which has drawn two straight under former Spain coach Javier Clemente, sat three points behind in 19th.

"For scoring chances and courage, we deserved to win," Racing coach Juanjo Gonzalez said. "We won't know the worth of this point until the end of the season."

League leader Real Madrid plays crosstown rival Rayo Vallecano on Sunday looking to maintain its 10-point advantage over Barcelona, which travels to an Atletico Madrid that has found its form under new manager Diego Simeone.

Also, it's: Villarreal vs. Athletic Bilbao, Valencia vs. Sevilla, Osasuna vs. Granada and Real Sociedad vs. Mallorca.