MANCHESTER, England – Jose Salomon Rondon's second-half header was enough to secure Malaga Champions League football for the first time in their history and ensure that Sporting Gijon were relegated after a narrow 1-0 win.
The hosts dominated from start to finish and only a combination of some fantastic goalkeeping from Juan Pablo, poor finishing and the woodwork managed to keep the score down.
Rondon came within inches of opening the scoring midway through the first half as his header came back off the post, but the Venezuelan made no mistake four minutes after half-time as he rose highest to power home Santi Cazorla's corner.
Pablo then twice denied Ruud Van Nistelrooy with smart stops and Rondon also passed up two clear opportunities but Malaga were untroubled when Isco was shown a second yellow card with two minutes remaining.
Manuel Pellegrini's side's home form has been the major reason for a top-four finish and they showed why against a Sporting side that seemed resigned to finishing the day in the bottom three.
Eliseu was first to force Pablo into action with a rasping shot from the edge of the area that the keeper did well to turn away before Rondon's header came back off the upright.
Isco and Cazorla were also denied by good stops from the Sporting keeper before half-time and Martin Demichelis should also have done better when he headed over when unmarked inside the area.
The one-way traffic continued after the break as Pablo again frustrated the hosts with saves from Joaquin and Nacho Camacho but it was only a matter of time before Malaga made the breakthrough and it arrived moments later as Rondon got enough power in his header to leave the keeper helpless.
Rondon should have had a hat-trick as he twice spurned great headed opportunities and his replacement Van Nistelrooy also had his chances as Pablo again came to Sporting's rescue to block the Dutchman's efforts.
Isco was shown his second yellow for a foul on Alejandro Galvez late on and Sporting did manage their first shot on target with the man advantage in stoppage time, but Carlos Kameni easily held Alex Menendez's effort to ensure there will be top-level European football at La Rosaleda next season.