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Mar 14, 2013

Goal hero Isco hails 'incredible dream'

Malaga goalscorer, local boy and all-round hero Isco has hailed as an "incredible dream" the team's achievement in reaching the Champions League quarter-finals.

Malaga saw off Porto 2-0 in Wednesday evening's last 16 second leg at a heaving Estadio Rosaleda, with a 20 yard strike from Isco and second half header from substitute Roque Santa Cruz sending the Andalucians through to the last eight 2-1 on aggregate in their first ever season in the competition.

The Malaga-born playmaker, 20, told Canal Plus after the game that such an achievement had been "unthinkable" until recently, but the team and its fans all deserved it.

"We have had a few bad games, but today we returned to our best form," Isco said. "We have done something which was unthinkable just a short while ago. It is incredible. It is a dream for everyone. Nobody here has seen anything like this. We all deserve it."

Isco, rumoured to be heading for Chelsea next summer, accepted his side had been nervous starting the game at 1-0 down from the first leg at Porto, but had settled into their stride and were now looking forward to the next round.

"We started very tense, but then we enjoyed ourselves and played our football," he said. "The Champions League is the essence of football. We will enjoy it wherever we have to play."

Isco's more experienced fellow attacker Joaquin Sanchez remembered how the Malaga players had overcome challenges, such as wages not being paid and stars including Santi Cazorla and Nacho Monreal being sold unexpectedly, to keep their heads and keep progressing.

"This shows the effort, the work and the commitment we have shown from the start," Joaquin said. "We have had difficult moments, but the dream made everything possible, we never gave in, ever. This is a very important step, to be among the eight best teams is a prize for us. We will keep going as far as we can."

Joaquin, 31, said reaching such European heights with Malaga meant more than similar achievements with his former club Valencia.

"It is different for the excitement created, because this has become something historic," he said. "It is the first time this club is in the Champions League. You just have to look at the fans to see how important it is. We are all happy and excited."

Coach Manuel Pellegrini said the European experience of Joaquin and on-loan Manchester City striker Santa Cruz, as well as Jeremy Toulalan and Martin Demichelis, had helped the team come through difficult moments.

"Their personality counts," Pellegrini said. "It is different playing in the Champions League with Malaga, it has been since the first day, each win is celebrated twice as much. We must value highly what this squad has done. They always had this ambition in their heads."

The Chilean coach, also reportedly on Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich's wanted list, said he had always been confident Malaga could turn the tie around.

"We had confidence and we had to show it in the game," he said. "[Porto] are a good team. We needed to keep our heads. We knew how to have a hot heart and a cold head."

Pellegrini said he would prefer not to meet La Liga rivals Real Madrid or Barcelona in the next round, but they were serious about going as far as possible in the competition.

"It would not be to meet another Spanish team in the quarter-finals, but whoever we get, we get," he said. "Now we are going for the semi-finals. We are not just in the competition for a stroll."

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