Europa League matchday 6 – Plzeň topple Atlético, Sparta in stalemate as both sides progress
Viktoria Plzeň and Sparta Praha both faced off against Spanish opposition in the final group games of the Europa League. With qualification assured for both sides and domestic action completed for the year, excuses could quite readily be made to avoid this round of action. For Plzeň though there was the carrot of being crowned group winners, but to achieve that they had to defeat defending champions Atlético Madrid.
Viktoria Plzeň 1-0 Atlético Madrid
Atlético sent out a much rotated eleven while on his 49th birthday Pavel Vrba named a full strength eleven as he hoped to push his side into the pot of seeds in the draw of fortnight today. The tie between these two sides earlier on in the Europa League was a tense affair in which Plzeň defended with heart until a last minute golazo broke their hearts, but in a cold and frosty Stadion města Plzně roles were reversed.
Marek Bakoš headed into the palms of Sergio Asenjo in the first real chance of the game and it was a sign of things to come as shortly after a Vladimír Darida corner was flicked on by Michal Ďuriš a sailed straight into the path of central defender Václav Procházka who prodded the ball into an empty net. The marking was poor yes, but for the hosts it was richly deserved.
The second period failed to produce much in the way of exciting end-to-end football the purists had expected with Viktoria sitting back and taking advantage of an El Atléti side that continuously failed to click. With the likes of Falcao benched there was never any substantial threat until Vrba decided to secure the defensive lines and conserve the victory; smelling blood Atlético pushed forwards and did have the ball in the back of the net, only for Kristinn Jakobsson to blow for a foul in the build up. Incensed with the decision Diego Costa lost his head as he ran over and squared up to the goal-scorer Procházka and leaned in. Jakobsson had seen enough and Costa was given a straight red.
Injury time played out and the Czech league leaders celebrated on the final whistle, the victory ensuring they would top Group B.
Potential opponents: Anzhi (Rus), Mönchengladbach (Ger), Newcastle (Eng), Stuttgart (Ger), Napoli (Ita), Basel (Swi), Inter Milan (Ita), Tottenham (Eng), Leverkusen (Ger), Levante (Esp), Zenit (Rus), BATE Borisov (Blr), Dynamo Kyiv (Ukr), Ajax (Ned)
Athletic Bilbao 0-0 Sparta Praha
This Europa League game was a complete dead rubber with neither side able to improve their positioning: Sparta would finish second in Group I behind Lyon, Athletic Club would end a disappointing Europa League run in third and the curtain would be brought down on European football in the San Mamés.
Marcelo Bielsa wielded the axe so much that now perennial substitute Fernando Llorente got a start while for Sparta Marek Čech and Jiří Skalák were brought in from the outset. A scrappy game without any real flow, the Czech side had the better chances and really should have left the Basque region with the victory. Jiří Skalák rattled the crossbar with a venomous shot and in the second-half when set free to go one-on-one with Raúl he scooped his effort high and wide.
The return of Václav Kadlec to first-team action will surely have lifted spirits of the travelling Sparta fans as the prodigious forward came onto the field just weeks after he suffered a fractured skull in a league game against Ml.Boleslav. His usual bustling and busy self showed no ill effects to that horrendous injury and his movement caused a few problems for Athletic’s defence.
Adam Jánoš, a mainstay for Sparta B, was handed his European debut late on as the game just petered out to a 0-0 draw. Sparta finish second in their Europa League group.
Potential opponents: Liverpool (Eng), Fenerbahçe (Tur), Steaua București (Rom), Dnipro (Ukr), Genk (Bel), Rubin Kazan (Rus), Lazio (Ita), Metalist (Ukr), Hannover (Ger), Chelsea (Eng), CFR Cluj (Rom), Olympiacos (Gre), Benfica (Por)
picture: pic: Vlastimil Leška/Denik.cz