in Europe 2013-14: Slovan Liberec’s Story of Success

Viktoria Plzen once again rubbed shoulders with Europe’s elite, Jablonec sprung a surprise before being hammered by Betis and Sparta, embarrassingly, crashed out of the Europa League before it had even begun. But far beyond all those narratives; Slovan Liberec reigned supreme.

UEFA Champions League

It is just so easy reaching the Group Stages of the Champions League if you’re Viktoria Plzen. Plzen ended a five year wait for Czech representation at the top table of European football when they qualified at the first attempt in 2011, and they repeated that feat this season, going through the preliminary campaign unbeaten and racking up twenty goals in the process.

Nomme Kalju were ruthlessly swatted away – no team which allows centre-back Marian Cisovsky and the geriatric Pavel Horvath to score hat tricks deserve to progress anyway – and Maribor, in the play-off round, were made to look very average (fact: the Slovenian side are anything but average). But the inherent flaws that one associates with a Pavel Vrba side came to the fore in Plzen’s initial fixturesp with the Bosnian champions Zeljeznicar. Plzen, obviously, progressed, but the Sarajevo side exploited inherent defensive fragilities.

But once again Viktoria Plzen showed that they aren’t just part of the European elite to just make up the numbers. From their impressive performance in Manchester to the resilient display on home turf against Josep Guardiola and Bayern Munich, right through to the symphonic crescendo of jubilation that accompanied their tie with CSKA Moscow, Plzen were good value for their second Champions League appearance.

Tomas Wagner’s goal brought the curtain down on their Champions League campaign with a victory (and the sideways ‘demotion’ to the Europa League), but also the era of Pavel Vrba – the likeable manager bowing out to the perfect script – proof that sometimes football does feel good stories that end nicely.

Group Stage table

Team Pld W D L GF GA GD Pts
Bayern Munich 6 5 0 1 17 5 +12 15
Manchester City 6 5 0 1 18 10 +8 15
Viktoria Plzen 6 1 0 5 6 17 −11 3
CSKA Moscow 6 1 0 5 8 17 −9 3

Europa League

Football was secondary when European action announced the return of competitive football after the winter break. Shakhtar Donetsk were the opposition, but with the Euromaidan demonstrations providing the backdrop sport was utterly insignificant.

Plzen progressed but bowed out to Lyon in the Round of 16. Demolished at the Stade de Gerland, the Czech side rebounded on home soil  to push their French opposition to the limit. Tecl and Kolar scored, Tecl then missed a penalty and then Wagner and Bakos were denied by expertly denied Anthony Lopes. Oh, what could have been.

Yes, Plzen performed admirably once again, but the best Czech side in Europe this season was Slovan Liberec who performed miracles until they were eventually knocked-out by AZ in heart-breaking fashion.

From their surprise elimination of Zurich to the astonishing rope-a-dope victory in Trieste against an Antonio Di Natale led Udinese, through to their emotional night in Estoril; Liberec rocked the boat every Thursday night.

Alongside Benfica, Silhavy’s squad is the only side that Sevilla failed to beat inside ninety minutes and their great journey would have continued if only Serhiy Boyko had spotted a flailing arm that diverted Jiri Pimpara’s last-minute goal-bound shot

Football; that beautiful yet cruel mistress.

Liberec’s neighbours Jablonec did well on the international stage, though their exit was a tad embarrassing. Optimism was low for their initial fixture against Stromsgodset, yet Roman Skuhravy coaxed an impressive performance out of his side in both legs. Their reward in the play-off round was a tie with Real Betis who put six past them in Seville, setting Skuhravy and Jablonec up for the rest of the season….

The less said about Sparta the better, the knives were out for Vitezslav Lavicka after they were dumped out by Hacken – luckily though the loveable manager would blunt those dissenting voices as he led Sparta to the league title.

Group Stage Table

Team Pld W D L GF GA GD Pts
Sevilla 6 3 3 0 9 4 +5 12
Slovan Liberec 6 2 3 1 9 8 +1 9
Freiburg 6 1 3 2 5 8 −3 6
Estoril 6 0 3 3 5 8 −3 3

Elimination stage fixtures

Round of 32

  • Slovan Liberec 0-1 AZ Alkmaar
  • AZ Alkmaar 1-1 Slovan Liberec
    • AZ progress 2-1 on aggregate
  • Viktoria Plzen 1-1 Shakhtar Donetsk
  • Shakhtar Donetsk 1-2 Viktoria Plzen
    • Viktoria Plzen progress 3-2 on aggregate

Round of 16

  • Lyon 4-1 Viktoria Plzen
  • Viktoria Plzen 2-1 Lyon
    • Lyon progress 5-3 on aggregate
  • Posted by Chris Boothroyd
  • On 15th June 2014