x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Uefa Champions League: Martinez miss may haunt Malaga against Porto

Colombian striker was on the radar of the Spanish club before their problems started and is now hit a purple patch.

Malaga trail 1-0 from the first leg and Porto's Jackson Martinez could make it more difficult for them. Miguel Riopa / AFP
Malaga trail 1-0 from the first leg and Porto's Jackson Martinez could make it more difficult for them. Miguel Riopa / AFP

The Porto formula for success holds few big secrets, but for all their sustained yields, few clubs have learnt to mimic the methods of the Portuguese champions as effectively as the patent holders.

Buy shrewdly in the South American market, make those players stars, and sell them lucratively, and then go shopping in the same places. The pattern is tried and tested.

Since September, the reputation of Jackson Martinez has been studiously burnished, in much the same way as those of Radamel Falcao, who spearheaded Porto to victory in the Europa League in 2011, and of Hulk, the Brazilian whose goals secured the domestic league title last year, were.

The Colombia striker cost €9 million (Dh42.9m) last summer from the Mexican club Jaguares de Chiapas, and on the back of his 23 strikes so far in the Portuguese top flight - plus three in seven outings in Europe - his €40m buyout clause looks less of theoretical benchmark for a future move than a proper asking price.

In Italy yesterday, a representative for Martinez was happily telling reporters of Barcelona's interest, among other heavyweight suitors.

Carry on as he has so far, and the athletic, powerful Martinez will probably follow a similar path to Falcao and Hulk, whom Porto sold to Atletico Madrid and Zenit Saint Petersburg in consecutive summers.

Malaga, who host Porto tonight in the second leg of the Champions League last-16 tie, had been among the clubs interested in first bringing Martinez to Europe.

They were stymied not just by the calibre of clubs competing for his signature but by a confusing summer financially for the Spaniards, with issues over the commitment of their Qatari owner.

The setbacks since - notably a suspended ban from Uefa competition for one year because of unhonoured debts - have made tonight something of a crossroads for the Andalusian club.

Their debut campaign in football's most elite tournament has been impressive, and they hope their home form - they are unbeaten at La Rosaleda so far, and topped a group which includes AC Milan and Zenit - is an alibi.

But they trail 1-0 from the first leg, and are wary of the punch Porto, and principally Martinez, pack up front.

"We are up against a very tough team, physically intense," said Javier Saviola, Malaga's Argentine striker who has experienced this stage of the Champions League with Barcelona, Real Madrid and Benfica.

"But the expectation around the game is great, in the dressing room and around the whole city. We have worked really hard to get this far, and now we have another chance to make history."

Porto, meanwhile, travelled to Spain with a fully fit squad. Martinez boasts hunger and form: the first leg was the only match since the third week of November in which he has not scored for Porto. He has 16 goals in his last 12 games.

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