BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Malaga held on to beat Athletic Bilbao 1-0 to kick off the Spanish league on Saturday after new coach Javi Gracia's winning debut was almost spoiled by two of his players earning red cards in a wild finale.
Gracia's first victory with Malaga was followed by positive starts for Valencia manager Nuno Espirito Santo, Espanyol's former player-turned-manager Sergio Gonzalez and Joaquin Caparros at Granada.
A 10-man Valencia salvaged a 1-1 draw at Sevilla with a late goal, while Sergio Garcia scored in stoppage time as a 10-man Espanyol drew 1-1 at Almeria. Granada managed to come from behind to beat visiting Deportivo La Coruna 2-1.
Malaga scored in the 34th minute when Luis Alberto converted the rebound from his own penalty after goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz blocked his spot kick.
The season opener was far from spectacular, but Malaga's balanced defense did well to neutralize Bilbao's talented set of attacking players.
"We weren't brilliant, just efficient," said Gracia, who took over Malaga after his Osasuna was relegated last season.
"We didn't have possession of the ball, it was theirs. But I think that through 96 minutes we played defense well. We played the last minutes in disadvantage and we kept fighting."
Roque Santa Cruz earned the penalty to set up Alberto's winner by poaching Carlos Gurpegui's backpass and drawing a foul from Iraizoz in the area.
Malaga limited Bilbao to Mikel Rico's header by the far post in the 65th and Guillermo Fernandez's header into the arms of goalie Carlos Kameni in the 87th.
That was until tempers flared near the end, when Malaga lost two players with direct red cards and gave Bilbao its best chance of the match.
Sergio "Duda" Barbosa was first sent off for shoving Bilbao's Iker Muniain to the turf in the 88th, and Vitorino Antunes compounded that error by earning his exit with a dangerous tackle to cut down Fernandez two minutes into stoppage time.
Iraizoz came forward in the final minute and thought he had grabbed an unlikely equalizer when he headed into the net, but the referee disallowed the goal because a line judge apparently ruled a Bilbao player offside on the free kick.
Continue reading this story on the...