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Czech challengers feel strain

Published: Wednesday 8 November 2006, 12.44CET
FC Slovan Liberec and AC Sparta Praha were suffering from UEFA Cup hangovers when the most keenly anticipated game of the Czech season finished 0-0.
by Ladislav Josef
from Prague

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Published: Wednesday 8 November 2006, 12.44CET

Czech challengers feel strain

FC Slovan Liberec and AC Sparta Praha were suffering from UEFA Cup hangovers when the most keenly anticipated game of the Czech season finished 0-0.

FC Slovan Liberec and AC Sparta Praha were seemingly suffering from UEFA Cup hangovers when the most keenly-anticipated fixture in the Czech calendar produced a disappointing goalless draw.

Heavy defeats
Monday's match presented Sparta with an opportunity to reclaim the league leadership for the first time since May 2005, but the stalemate kept them two points behind the champions after 13 games. With Liberec having lost 4-0 at SC Braga on the Thursday and Sparta having conceded three goals in a defeat at SV Zulte Waregem, the atmosphere was muted from the outset at the U Nisy stadium, and the players did little to lift the supporters.

Clean sheets
Sparta failed to muster a chance worth the name, although coach Mihal Bílek will have taken consolation from another clean sheet; the capital club have conceded just one goal in eight league outings since he replaced Stanislav Griga on 1 September. Much of that solidity has stemmed from Bílek's decision to move Michal Kadlec from left-back to central defence – a position in which his father Miroslav excelled at EURO '96™.

Goalkeeping decision
When Liberec's Costa Rica forward Winston Parks threatened to break the deadlock, Sparta goalkeeper Jaromír Blažek produced the sort of save that has enabled him to register nine shutouts this season. Liberec keeper Marek Čech also moved on to nine clean sheets on Monday, and watching national-team coach Karel Brückner faces a difficult task in deciding who will replace Petr Čech as the Chelsea FC custodian recovers from a skull injury.

Youngsters impress
The match was also notable for the presence of Sparta defender Tomáš Řepka, who was booed throughout after saying another title for Liberec would be detrimental to Czech football. His performance was one of the high points in a mediocre 90 minutes, as was a man-of-the-match display from home defender Jiří Bílek, nephew of the Sparta coach. Liberec are profiting from blooding youth, with Jan Holenda, Daniel Pudil, Tomáš Frejlach and Jan Blažek all helping the Czech Republic qualify for the 2007 UEFA European Under-21 Championship in the Netherlands.

Last updated: 08/11/06 14.44CET

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