Aug 17 2010

Preview: Sparta Prague v MSK Zilina, Champions League Qualifying

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Tonight sees MSK Zilina take on Sparta Prague in arguably the biggest match of their history. The team from the North of Slovakia are dreaming of becoming the first Slovak club since Vladimir Weiss’ Artmedia Petrzalka to qualify for the Champions League.  A potential cash windfall of €7 Million just for participating in the group stages is huge money in a country where most teams dream of annual budgets above €1 Million and the added spice of a ‘local’ derby makes this fixture one of the most intriguing of the playoff round.

Success against Sparta would lead to Zilina’s first ever Champions League qualification and only the 2nd ever for a Slovak club side.  While Sparta have significantly more European experience than Zilina, it is 5 years since they last appeared in the Champions League proper.  Zilina have been quietly effective in Europe in the last couple of seasons and especially in 2008/09 performed impressively in gaining 4 points from a UEFA Cup group containing Ajax, Aston Villa, HSV and Slavia Prague.  With Europa League football already guaranteed Zilina now have a huge opportunity to go one step further.

Coincidently, Zilina are coached by a Czech, Pavel Hapal, and Sparta by a Slovak, Jozef Chovanec.  Furthermore, Zilina have 4 Czechs in their squad, and Sparta 3 Slovaks.  Obviously there is no bigger reward in club football than Champions League qualification, and with just 400km separating the two cities makes this a highly accessible fixture for both sets of fans.  Both legs will be sell-outs, and the atmospheres will be electric.  Should the Slovaks have their way in the opening exchanges of the first leg, the Sparta crowd is renowned for getting on their team’s back.  Direct trains have been organised from Zilina and with tickets available for just €31 Zilina will inevitably take a large green and yellow following with them to Prague.  The match in the Generali Arena is a 21,000 sell-out.

Zilina fans on the march before the Litex match

Zilina fans on the march before the Litex match

Sparta are weakened by suspensions following a feisty affair against Lech Poznan in the previous round.  3 of their key players are suspended, Marek Matejovsky has a 3 match ban following a sending off in Poland, and Libor Sonko and top scorer Bony Wilfried also miss out on the first leg.  Zilina are at full strength and have formally thanked MFK Ruzomberok for agreeing to play their league fixture one day early to give extra preparation time for this massive match.

Although Sparta are favourites, the weakened nature of their squad for the first leg might just give Zilina an opportunity to get a result in Prague.  As Zilina demonstrated in the previous qualifying round against Litex Lovech, if they can achieve a draw away in the first leg, they will really fancy their chances back at home in the return match 8 days later.

Zilina celebrate with their fans as Lovech trudge off

Zilina celebrate with their fans as Lovech trudge off

In 22 year old 6’5” Gambian striker Momodou Ceesay Zilina have a player who could be destined for bigger things.  The quick, powerful centre-forward who proved too hot to handle for the Litex defence, has been creating havoc in the domestic league. The squad has plenty of other attacking players more than capable of scoring goals, and with an excellent team spirit, the team from the North of Slovakia have a real chance against Sparta.

Britski Belasi prediction?

I can see Zilina getting a 1-1 draw in the first leg.  If the Slovak team manage a result in Prague, the return leg will take nerves of steel in front of their own fans knowing they are so close to a massive prize, but I genuinely believe (and hope!) that Zilina will prevail.

One response so far




One Response to “Preview: Sparta Prague v MSK Zilina, Champions League Qualifying”

  1.   tparcheron 17 Aug 2010 at 11:34 pm

    Good game, great scenes at the end with the Zilina fans as well!

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