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Feb 18, 2013

Progression wouldn't surprise Pellegrini

Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini said it would no surprise if his Champions League debutants were to progress past two-time competition winners Porto, when speaking ahead of Tuesday's Champions League last 16 first leg between the two sides at the Estadio do Dragao.

• Blog: Pellegrini keeping focus

Malaga surprised even themselves on their first appearance in the competition by finishing clear of supposed bigger teams AC Milan and Zenit Saint-Petersburg in Group C last autumn, but Porto also impressed when sealing qualification from their group with two games remaining.

Nevertheless, the Qatari-backed but financially troubled Los Boquerones making it past Vitor Pereira's 1987 and 2004 winners to reach the quarter-finals would not now count as a shock, the Chilean coach told reporters in Oporto on Monday evening.

"I do not believe it would be a surprise," Pellegrini said. "A lot of things can happen in 180 minutes. We are coming up against a good team, but Malaga have also showed they can keep progressing in the Champions League. That is our intention."

Pellegrini, rumoured this week to be a potential manager at Premier League clubs Chelsea or Manchester City next season, has extensive Champions League experience which includes almost taking Villarreal to the final in 2006. 'The Engineer' said his team would not get carried away by reaching this stage and would continue to play their controlled, patient style of football.

"This team never goes out to take risks, but we also look to win the game and we are not going to change our way of playing," Pellegrini said. "I believe the tie will be decided back in Malaga. When we first qualified, we were clear that we wanted to be competitive and go through to the next round. Now things are exactly the same. Porto have a great history, but we are going to fight for our chance."

With Nacho Monreal sold to Arsenal for £10 million in January, and previous ever-present Eliseu ruled out with a knee strain, recent signing Vitorino Antunes looks set to make his Champions League debut at left-back.

Pellegrini is also expected to make changes to the XI which beat Athletic Bilbao 1-0 in La Liga on Saturday, with rested regulars Joaquin Sanchez, Jeremy Toulalan and Roque Santa Cruz all in line to come back in. Julio Baptista, who has started Malaga's last two games after 16 months out injured, looks likely to be on the bench, long serving right-back Jesus Gamez faces a late fitness test, and highly rated playmaker Isco is sure to begin the game.

Asked about the challenge he expected from Porto, Pellegrini picked out Colombian striker Jackson Martinez, who has scored in nine of his last ten games in all competitions, and experienced Argentine playmaker Lucho Gonzalez for praise.

"It is a team with great players in attack, who go out to win games," he said. "I had the chance to coach Lucho at River Plate. I also tried to bring Jackson Martinez [to Malaga]. There was an attempt made to sign him at one point."

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