MADRID, Spain, January 17- Holders Barcelona’s hopes of retaining the Spanish Cup hang in the balance after being held 2-2 at home by 10-man Malaga in their Spanish Cup quarter-final first leg clash on Wednesday.
Barcelona – who hold an 11-point lead in the league race over Atletico Madrid with 18 wins from 19 matches – looked to be in the driving seat after coming from a goal down to lead 2-1 after half-an-hour thanks to two goals in as many minutes by Lionel Messi and veteran talismanic defender Carles Puyol.
Malaga’s chances of coming away with anything better than a one goal deficit looked to be over when Nacho Monreal was red carded 15 minutes from time for a trip on Pedro.
However, just as Malaga have shown in their maiden Champions League campaign that they are made of stern stuff so they did in Barcelona as Ignacio Camacho tucked the ball away neatly with a minute remaining after both Puyol and centre-back partner Javier Mascherano failed to get high enough to clear a free-kick.
On Tuesday Barca’s great rivals Real Madrid had taken a big step towards the semi-finals as they beat Valencia 2-0 at the Bernabeu.
Goals by Karim Benzema and an own goal by Mexican defender Andres Guardado gave the hosts a much-needed boost and kept alive their hopes of some domestic silverware this season as in the league they are third and trail Barcelona by 18 points.
However, it was far from an assured performance by Jose Mourinho’s side and, but for some poor Valencia finishing, they could have been travelling to Valencia for the second leg on level terms.
Benzema, though, steadied their nerves eight minutes before half-time as the France international striker showed some kind of return to form as he slotted home after being set up by Sami Khedira in a move started by Michael Essien.
The hosts’ second came in the 73rd minute from a counter attack just after Valencia’s Brazilian striker Jonas had missed a terrific opportunity to equalise.
Guardado put the ball into his own net from Fabio Coentrao’s centre and the damage could have been greater for the visitors had not Vicente Guaita made two point blank saves from Cristiano Ronaldo in a matter of minutes.