Malaga routs Zaragoza 5-1 in to move 4th in Spain

JOSEPH WILSON Associated Press Published:

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) -- Malaga shook off a slow start and stormed back to beat last-place Zaragoza 5-1 as the Andalusian side rose into fourth place in the Spanish league on Saturday.

After 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 Athletic Bilbao and Espanyol, all fighting for Spain's last Champions League spot come next season.

Zaragoza struck first in the 23rd minute through Carlos Aranda's volley of a cross by Angel Lafita for his first goal since joining the team from Levante in the winter transfer market.

Zaragoza goalkeeper Roberto Jimenez denied Joris Mathijsen with a diving save moments later, but he could do nothing to keep out Seba Fernandez's header off a pass from Francisco "Isco" Alarcon just before halftime to level the score.

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 strike of bad luck left Zaragoza reeling and Malaga 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 appears destined to play next season in the second division as it sits 11 points from safety.

Elsewhere, Racing Santander rallied for a 1-1 home draw against Sporting Gijon in a relegation fight, while Getafe drew 1-1 at Real 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.

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

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

Levante sought its first win of 2012 at Espanyol late Saturday.

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.