Cast your mind back 12 years to the 2002 World Cup. The first time the Jules Rimet trophy would be held aloft on Asian soil. Spanish hands were closer than English ones that’s for sure but as a 20-year old Joaquin stepped up to take a penalty against the surprise package of the tournament the Korea Republic the internet archives will show that tame strike was saved and Hong Myung-Bo put Guus Hiddink’s side through to the semi-finals at the expense of La Roja.
The Betis winger whose touchline-hugging style was a constant threat for Jose Antonio Camacho’s side in that quarter-final and throughout the tournament was also the man who supplied the cross for ‘that’ Morientes goal which should have decided the game before the shootout. Carrying a slight thigh injury the young man from Andalusia volunteered his services and despite missing the vital penalty still had the world at his feet.
Almost four years on from World Cup heartache Joaquin led Real Betis into the Champions League before Valencia paid 25 million Euros to add the Spaniard to what was looking a formidable squad. In five seasons at the Mestalla whether it was under Quique Sanchez Flores, Ronald Koeman or Unai Emery, what should have been Joaquin’s best footballing years turned out to be the most frustrating and inconsistent period of a player who should have still been hogging the headlines.
Thrown a lifeline by Manuel Pellegrini and the Qatari businessmen that injected the funds to be able to show off Joaquin as part of a £60m spending spree on players, the good feeling of a club only recently re-built had quickly evaporated with financial uncertainty and UEFA sanctions replacing the optimism. Joaquin now 31, is helping supporters forget about the faces that helped Malaga qualify for the Champions League who have now since departed. While he might not have the energy levels to last the full ninety minutes the skill and craft to make a telling contribution has resurfaced and it’s benefiting Malaga on both domestic and European fronts.
The first Spanish side to qualify for the knock-out stages of the Champions League, Malaga’s performances have been built on an organized defence that has a blend of experience and youthful vitality with statistically the best goalkeeper in Spain providing the last line of defence. The scintillating Isco has stepped into Santi Cazorla’s shoes but a reinvigorated Joaquin has been there to share the creative burden which has given him a new lease of life at the La Rosaleda.
Looking back at the second leg of the last 16 tie with Porto and while Isco and Roque Santa Cruz scored the crucial goals, Joaquin displayed a versatility that allowed him to drift from his wide role and play more centrally, influencing play with his delicate threaded through balls and when his silky footwork sucked in Stefan Defour to pick up his second yellow card, also pushed up as a forward as Jesus Gamez provided the width.
Joaquin’s performance had back heels, flick passes and the burst of pace that only put him behind Javier Saviola in terms of acceleration when in possession of the ball. This was a player enjoying his football and as he left the pitch with just four minutes left on the clock it would be the most minutes Joaquin had completed in Europe since the play-off games against Panathinaikos.
Jurgen Klopp’s dynamic Borussia Dortmund side lie in wait next and if Joaquin’s belief that the whole of Spain is willing Malaga to succeed is accurate, supporters can look back to moments like those in 2002 and be safe in the knowledge that a player who had almost fallen off the radar will not shirk the responsibility of making sure Malaga give everything to make it to the last four, even if his services are required from the penalty spot once again.