Aug 18 2010

Zilina win Champions League Playoff 1st Leg in Prague

Published by at 9:11 am under European and tagged: , , ,

Slovak Champions MSK Zilina defied expectations recording a 0-2 victory in front of 21,000 at the Letna Stadium in Prague which leaves them in control of this Champions League playoff tie going into the return leg next week. Zilina are aiming to become just the 3rd ever Slovak side to make the Champions League group stages (Artmedia Petrzalka made the CL in 2005/06 & Kosice also played in the group stages way back in 97/98).

Sparta started the game looking much the better side, Zilina showing some early nerves, especially at the back. However once the Slovaks settled into their rhythm, they were able to start dictating the pace of the match with neat passing football quite typical of the Slovak National team in this year’s World Cup.  Several chances created in the first half obviously gave Pavel Hapal’s team the belief and confidence that they were very much in this tie.  A stunning free-kick from Robert Jez was saved by the fingertips of Sparta keeper Jaromir Blazek and minutes later Oravec could have done better with a free header at the far post.  Sparta also had their chances, but a scrappy first half probably saw both teams happy to go into the break at 0-0.

Sparta coach Jozef Chovanec must have gone into the interval thinking that if he could just get some better organisation into his back 3, Sparta should be able to dominate the 2nd half.  In reality, Sparta came out after the break looking like a complete shambles, and a comedy of errors at the back involving defenders and the keeper led to Zilina striker Momodou Ceesay picking up the ball and unleashing a stunning finish in off the post from an acute angle on the edge of the box.  Ceesay’s confidence was growing by the minute, and shortly after his goal, the 21-year old Gambian striker with his unique languid style, went on a mesmerizing run through the Sparta midfield to shoot just wide from 25 yards.  Ceesay, who spent a period on Chelsea’s books when he was just 18, is a real gem at this level.  The 6’5″ stiker has a physical presence to intimidate the best of defenders, and his hold up play, general movement, pace, strength in the air and shooting ability, all evident in the 2nd half yesterday, showed that this player has all the attributes to play at a higher level.  If Zilina make the Champions League, I predict Ceesay’s stock to rise dramatically, with a possible move to a bigger European league on the cards next season.

Ceesay in full flow

Ceesay in full flow

The Zilina performance wasn’t all about Ceesay though, and this young team showed touches of football worthy of a place on club football’s biggest stage.  How everyone associated with MSK Zilina and Slovak football must be dreaming of hosting the big names of the European game back at home in mountainous Northern Slovakia in the coming weeks.  21 year old U-21 International goalkeeper Martin Dubravka was playing with an assurance way beyond his years, and the Benin International Issiaka Bello together with the excellent Czech Emil Rilke on the left were running the show in midfield.  The whole team played their part in this victory, and in the 73rd minute Zilina were rewarded further when Tomas Oravec sent the travelling masses into ecstasy with a towering header from a corner.

Sparta pushed hard for the goal which would keep the tie very much in the balance, but in reality this was a woeful display from the Czech Champions.  The whistles of derision from the home crowd summed up an almost embarrassing performance given the prize at stake and despite endless shouting and gesticulating from captain and former West Ham defender Tomas Repka his team simply didn’t look up for this match .  Sparta obviously missed the suspended Matejovsky, Sonko and Wilfried  and with the latter 2 returning for next week’s 2nd leg, MSK Zilina need to stay on top of their game and not lose their grasp on this tie.  They must have nerves of steel, keep their feet on the ground this week and concentrate fully on not giving anything away early on in the match.

With the attacking options at their disposal there is always a chance of Zilina scoring goals, and now the Slovaks must be favourites to be in next Thursday’s group stage draw. Zilina have a number of players who can more than hold their own at this level, and it will be very interesting to follow rising interest from bigger clubs should Zilina make the group stages.  Just remember, you read it here first!

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