LA LIGA

Olinga gives Málaga good cheer

Real held by Valencia as Athletic and Betis share eight at San Mamés

Málaga players mob 16-year-old goalscorer Fabrice Olinga.
Málaga players mob 16-year-old goalscorer Fabrice Olinga. MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP

Málaga, which kicked off La Liga against newly promoted Celta on Saturday, shook off some of the gloom gathering over the club by not only recording the first victory of the 2012-13 season, but also introducing Fabrice Olinga to the soccer world. The young forward, who is a product of Samuel Eto's academy in Cameroon, came off the bench in the second half and required just 25 minutes of first-team action to score his debut senior goal.

Not only did it seal a 0-1 win for his side; Olinga also beat the record for the youngest scorer in La Liga by netting at just 16 years and 98 days old, bettering Iker Muniain's mark by 191 days.

Málaga's financial woes are well documented, and Manuel Pellegrini may have to rely more on the club's academy than he would have liked as the season progresses. In Olinga, it seems that Málaga has uncovered a rare, if raw, talent. The former Mallorca youth teamer's inaugural Liga goal will not trouble the season highlight reels when May comes around, but his cut inside and a rasping shot that rattled the woodwork in the build-up to his bundled effort possessed shades of Eto'o himself.

Tomer Hemed also assured himself a footnote in Liga history during Mallorca's home match against Espanyol by netting either side of midnight in the first of this season's much-maligned 11pm kick-offs.

The Israel striker opened the scoring for the home side after just two minutes, before Wakaso Mubarak leveled for the visitor. Hemed struck again five minutes from time to seal victory for Mallorca, shortly before 1am on Sunday morning. The result was enough to give Mallorca lead of the division overnight on Saturday but neither coach was overly enamored with the late start to the match.

Espanyol's Mauricio Pochettino noted that the hour was "more suited for sleeping than playing soccer," while Joaquín Caparrós, although pleased with his side's victory, voiced the general opinion over the latest innovation by the Professional Football League: "It doesn't really help to promote soccer."

In Saturday's other match, Jesús Navas started the season in much the same vein as he bade farewell to the last, driving Sevilla to a 2-1 win over visiting Getafe. The Spain winger, who after a quiet first few months of 2011-12 eventually played his way into the national squad for the European Championships, combined to devastating effect with new arrival Cicinho, suggesting a blossoming partnership on the right flank.

Fazio opened the scoring for the home side with a glancing header from an Iván Rakitic cross on 34 minutes and Álvaro Negredo doubled Sevilla's lead from the spot after José Antonio Reyes, also remaining true to his reputation, hurled himself over a contactless challenge in the area.

Getafe, through Alexis Delgado, reduced the deficit in the second half but Sevilla, while lacking a little puff in the final stages, was never in danger of surrendering its lead.

On Sunday, chaos reigned at San Mamés as Athletic hosted Betis. Bilbao coach Marcelo Bielsa put out a side shorn of Fernando Llorente and Javi Martínez, World Cup-winners both but whose heads have been turned, in the parlance of the sport, by wealthier suitors elsewhere. While the rebellious stylings of the two Spain internationals have turned stomachs at a club that prides itself more on local pride than anything else - the pair were booed at an open training session on Saturday - the fare that unfolded on the field promises another rollercoaster season for fans of The Lions. Bielsa fielded a youthful side, handed a debut to 19-year-old Iñigo Ruiz de Gallarreta, left new signing Aritz Aduriz on the bench in favor of warhorse Gaizka Toquero and unleashed Anders Herrera and Itarruspe from central midfield.

Defender Mikel San José scored twice and midfielder Óscar de Marcos, playing at right back, bagged another as Athletic went down 3-5, having clawed level from 0-3 after half an hour. They call Bielsa "El Loco," and it certainly promises to be a madcap season in Bilbao.

Also on Sunday night, Valencia held Real Madrid to a 1-1 tie at the Bernbéu, in a game reminiscent of the same fixture last year. On that occasion, a brilliant display by Valencia goalkeeper Vicente Guaita kept Real at bay; this time, it was the always-consistent former Villarreal stopper Diego Alves who thwarted the best efforts of Real's glamorous attack. Gonzalo Higuaín opened the scoring for the host but Jonas Gonçalves equalized just before half time when Pepe and Iker Casillas both nisread the path of the ball and met in an ugly collision, allowing the Brazilian to nod home unopposed.

"We did enough to win, but we have to play better," said Real coach José Mourinho.

Villa hands Tito a perfect start

R. T.

When Pep Guardiola announced that he had, temporarily at least, had enough of the stresses and strains of coaching the most successful side of the 21st century in Europe, more than a few eyebrows arched in surprise when his assistant, Tito Vilanova, was given the job.

Like Guardiola, Vilanova had never coached at the highest level before when he was handed the baton. Unlike Guardiola, the new man had never played at the highest level either, chalking up a handful of Liga appearances during a quiet, unpretentious career. But, rather like Guardiola, Vilanova is a quiet, unpretentious man.

He has also been entrusted with the easiest gig in the game; when pressed once by a journalist for the secrets of his coaching method, Guardiola replied: "Coach them? I just throw them a ball and watch."

Disingenuous perhaps, but probably not that far from the truth. It is well-known that this Barça squad has been practicing its art from the cradle, rendering the tactical chalkboard redundant. Neither does Vilanova have any egos to manage: by all accounts, Barça"s playing staff could spend all day holding a Camp Nou door open for each other, like a Catalan Alphonse and Gaston. Players that think themselves grander than the club are swiftly moved on, as Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto"o and Zlatan Ibrahimovic can attest.

In such an environment, a coach has only to tweak personnel here and there, and maintain a convivial locker room. Again, it seems that there are few places happier on earth than the bowels of Camp Nou. Tito Jackson could probably manage this crop of players.

All of this was in evidence on Sunday night when Barcelona clicked into auto-pilot and thrashed a decent Real Sociedad side 5-1. Leo Messi bagged a brace but could have helped himself to five, while it was business as usual for the peerless Andrés Iniesta. Barça"s backline has been strengthened by the return of Carles Puyol and a touch more pace has been added down the left with the arrival of Jordi Alba. Underlining the feel-good factor at the club was the visit of Alba"s predecessor, Éric Abidal, to the locker room.

But the biggest cheer of the night was reserved for David Villa, who returned to action after eight months on the sidelines, scored, hugged the physio, thanked his family, wept and received a standing ovation.

It"s unlikely the Camp Nou announcer will cheekily slip I want you back onto the turntable this season.

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