The unheralded shine as Plzen step over Sparta and towards the title

Sparta Prague 0-2 Viktoria Plzen

Synot Liga, Generali Arena.

Now it’s a blood and thunder fixture that is simultaneously played out on the pitch, in the stands and all over the press. Neither side really likes each other. In fact there’s such a strong sense of distrust between the two at boardroom level that there’s a prevalent feeling of warmongering that fills the air whenever the two meet. And that’s without even mentioning the supposed briefcases full of implicating evidence and countless claims of corruption that are lodged on a near weekly basis. The Prague derby may be about city pride, but Sparta Prague and Viktoria Plzen is about titles, silverware and, more importantly to some, a whole heap of cash.

Of course this was built up – heavily – by the press in the days leading up to kick off. According to the headlines this game would decide the title, decide who makes it into the Champions League and who will (likely) make a swift exit from UEFA’s premier club competition and who’ll be set to reap the financial rewards of said continental glory. Given the suspicion that shrouds this fixture the FA opted to throw an outsider, David Fernandez Borbalan, into the cauldron in order to preserve integrity – and distance the association from any potential ramifications should there be some potentially dubious judgments from the man in black.

This of course avoids the issue rather than tackling it head on. Is there blatant corruption running through the game or not? Simply papering over the cracks by appointing a neutral entity every once in a while does nothing to solve the problem. And if bias isn’t the problem that some people believe it to be, why isn’t something done to convince those power players that everything is fine? As has become the norm, football takes a back seat to politics when these two heavyweights clash.

Aside from all the off-the-field nastiness though, this is the game of the year, and it often lives up to its billing. One of my first experiences of Czech football first hand was Plzen’s meticulous demolition of Sparta way back in 2011. Cramped, two to a seat in some places, the crowd was silent as Viktoria cut through Sparta like the proverbial hot knife. Subsequent fixtures may not have produced as exciting or clinical football, but they’ve always been enthralling: Last season’s meetings were about Sparta’s dominance, about trophies, about the ascension of Sparta’s new breed. The last game between the pair was about Miroslav Koubek restoring the balance of power in Plzen’s favour.

Tonight’s match was all about crowning the champions elect.

Koubek’s first taste of the Sparta-Plzen rivalry was a sumptuous one.  In a blistering thirty minute spell his Plzen side buzzed, harried and pressed Vitezslav Lavicka’s Sparta into submission. Lukas Hejda and Tomas Horava – two bit part players the entire season – scored to put the home side in a lead they never looked like giving up. This time, the mesmerising spell came immediately after half-time when Jan Holenda and Roman Hubnik, again two bit-part players in the scheme of Plzen’s season, scored deserved goals. Barring a miracle, the title is heading back to western Bohemia.

Whilst the unheralded shone for Plzen, Sparta’s stars burned out. Ladislav Krejci’s worrying form this calendar year continued and he was hauled off just after half-time and Vaclav Kadlec was invisible for the majority of the game. Even the predatory David Lafata’s presence was stifled and he could only watch the game go by and see Milan Skoda move to the top of the scoring charts.

For the opening forty-five minutes however it was an even affair. Tit for tat, both Sparta Prague and Viktoria Plzen advanced and then retreated as the two systems cancelled each other out. It was absolutely captivating: Short on chances, but high on intrigue and suspense. Both sides had one clear-cut chance each in the first-half. Plzen’s came first when Jakub Brabec sliced a clearance straight to the feet of Holenda, but the former Anzi forward could only fire over the crossbar. Sparta’s didn’t come from an error; they worked the ball forward with pace and precision, driving forward on what looked to be a clinical counter-attack. But when Borek Dockal nudged the ball to his left, to set Ladislav Krejci free on the edge of the area. Krejci hesitated however, taking an extra touch that somebody brimming with confidence wouldn’t need and found Matus Kozacik diving at his feet.

Krejci’s night was summed up by a second-half free-kick which he ballooned into the stands. That moment seemed to knock the hosts back a few steps as shortly afterwards Holenda opened the scoring when he turned Mario Holek with ease and then curled his shot into the top corner, via a slight deflection off Costa. In that instant the game changed. Sparta had to go for broke, a shift that suited Plzen’s game plan to a tee. The pressure from the home side intensified somewhat, but the visitors’ back four never bent, the only danger coming from a Sparta corner which found Brabec who in turn found Kozacik’s breadbasket.

Roman Hubnik got the goal his imperious performance deserved when he headed in Jan Kovarik’s free-kick on sixty-nine minutes. With a nuanced flick of the head he killed off Sparta’s title bid, ensured that Plzen did the double over their new rivals and brought Viktoria within touching distance of their third league championship in five seasons.

Bragging rights, silverware and the bundles of potential Champions League cash, they’re all heading to the Doosan Arena.

Sparta Prague
M Stech 5 – P Kaderabek 7, M Holek 4, J Brabec 4, Costa 6 – B Dockal 5, L Vacha 5, M Matejovsky 5 – V Kadlec 4 (sub: 75’ J Reznicek 4), D Lafata 5, L Krejci 4 (sub: 54’ T Konate 6)

Viktoria Plzen
M Kozacik 6 – F Rajtoral 5, V Prochazka 6, R Hubnik 9, D Limberky 7 – O Vanek 5, T Horava 6 – V Pilar 6 (sub: 87’ M Petrzela), D Kolar 6 (sub: 90’ J Baranek), J Kovarik 7 – J Holenda 8 (sub: 82’ A Mahmutovic)

Photo: Phill Mensch (Flickr, CC)

  • Posted by Chris Boothroyd
  • On 10th May 2015