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Kotrba has nothing to lose

Published: Tuesday 16 September 2003, 10.01CET
AC Sparta Praha coach Jirí Kotrba laid his job on the line for UEFA Champions League qualification.
Published: Tuesday 16 September 2003, 10.01CET

Kotrba has nothing to lose

AC Sparta Praha coach Jirí Kotrba laid his job on the line for UEFA Champions League qualification.
AC Sparta Praha coach Jirí Kotrba is convinced that two difficult hurdles are already behind him, after leading the Czech side to the domestic title and the UEFA Champions League group stage.

Goals achieved
"As you know, Sparta have won all but two Czech titles since 1993, so anything other than another victory would have been a great failure," Kotrba told on the eve of his side's opening Group G fixture against Chelsea FC. Kotrba arrived at Sparta during last season's winter break to replace Jozef Jarabinský. Soon after his arrival, he promised his resignation if Sparta did not win the league and qualify for the Champions League. Having achieved both goals, he now has nothing to lose. Were you being serious when threatening your resignation?

Jirí Kotrba: Yes. However, I am glad that I did not have to prove it. The Champions League is a great challenge for everybody - and twice as much for me, because I am a newcomer. What are your hopes for Sparta in the Champions League?

Kotrba: We are certainly the outsiders in Group G. Nobody imagines that we can beat any of our opponents - however, we could surprise all of them. We rely on teamwork above all, as we do not have the individual qualities of Chelsea or [S.S.] Lazio. If we perform to our best, and our rivals have an off-day, we can enjoy success like two years ago, when Sparta advanced to the second group phase. What are your team's strengths?

Kotrba: All of our players have experience - even the youngest of them, Radoslav Kovác and Tomáš Jun, have gold medals from the [UEFA European] Under-21 Championship. Experience was our biggest advantage in the qualifying match against FK Vardar. We showed commitment when the game was going against us. Sparta have changed their squad markedly since last year.

Kotrba: The best players leave our side every year, such as Jirí Jarosík, who moved to [PFC] CSKA Moskva, or Zdenek Grygera, now playing for [AFC] Ajax. It's economic reality. No less then 16 out of 28 players who were on the Champions League list last year, when Sparta failed in the qualifying round, have gone now. It is not easy to work with a steadily changing squad. It takes a considerable while to settle. Would you say you are a calm or a hot-blooded coach?

Kotrba: I have changed during my career, and I am not as impulsive as in recent years. However, there are still things that can infuriate me. The players' mistakes, or if I think that a referee is wrong. A great deal is at stake, and emotions are understandable. Football is a kind of theatre, but every coach must know his limits. I hope that I have fixed my limits. Sparta are seventh in the league, which can hardly be regarded as a successful start. Do you feel any pressure?

Kotrba: Not at all. Nevertheless, we cannot allow ourselves to fall too far behind the leaders. I am a little concerned that we have failed to win away matches, although we were close on several occasions. Do you have personal experience of opponents Chelsea?

Kotrba: Yes, I coached [FK] Viktoria Žižkov against them in the [UEFA] Cup Winners' Cup second round in 1994. We had a totally inexperienced team and Chelsea took advantage of this handicap. We conceded two goals within the opening five minutes at Stamford Bridge, but managed to level the scores before the break. We lost 4-2 in the end and had good opportunities in the goalless draw in the return. We missed a penalty, as I remember. Karel Poborský also played in that game. We will certainly be trying to avenge that result.

Last updated: 17/09/03 12.01CET

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