A 1-1 weekend draw for leaders AC Sparta Praha at second-placed FC Baník Ostrava has ensured a thrilling finale in the Czech First League with three games to go.
Sunday's fixture brought a capacity 17,000 crowd to the Bazaly Stadium for the first time in two years, and with little love traditionally lost between both sets of supporters, it would have been a nail-biting encounter even without the high stakes.
Sparta captain Tomáš Řepka was at the heart of things, with home fans yet to forgive him for leaving Baník for the capital club fully 15 years ago. The 36-year-old had the misfortune to deflect a Martin Lukeš free-kick into his own net after 13 minutes, but insisted he was not intimidated by his one-time admirers. "I have no problem with that," he said. "On the contrary, it gives me extra motivation."
The game was also considered as an opportunity to compare the league's best young strikers. Matěj Vydra, who turned 18 last Saturday, has scored four times for Baník this season, yet here he was outshone by 17-year-old Václav Kadlec, who struck Sparta's 53rd-minute equaliser – his sixth goal of the campaign. "It's important that we kept top spot as we have our destiny in our hands. I believe we will win our three remaining games," Kadlec said.
Sparta coach Jozef Chovanec felt similarly optimistic, adding: "We have taken a point from a very hard match and I believe we will keep our lead now." Baník boss Miroslav Koubek, who played in goal for Sparta in the 1970s, conceded that "it was a fair result because Sparta were the better side after we scored".
Sparta and Baník remain level on 55 points with the Prague outfit, unbeaten all term, boasting a better goal difference. However, that is not the whole story: victories at the weekend have put FK Jablonec 97 and FK Teplice within one and two points respectively of first place. The pair meet in their next game, while Teplice visit Sparta in the final match of the campaign on 15 May. It promises to be a dramatic ending.
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