AC Sparta Praha go into Wednesday night's UEFA Champions League game against Besiktas JK propping up Group G with one point but feel that they deserve to be in a stronger position.
The Czech club were beaten on Matchday 1 by a late Chelsea FC winner and were two goals up in Rome before seeing their lead wiped out by S.S. Lazio. However, the run of results has merely fuelled Sparta's desire to give their supporters something to cheer tonight.
Lack of luck
"We lost the Chelsea game at home because we were unlucky. We were not lucky in Rome either," Jirí Kotrba, the Sparta coach, said on Tuesday. "With more luck we could have four points by now. We want to win tomorrow's game now and we have to concentrate for the whole match."
However, Kotrba knows that Besiktas will be no pushovers. "Everybody favours Chelsea and Lazio in the group," he said. "But, for me, Besiktas are bigger favourites than them.
The standard of Turkish football is on the up every day. Turkey finished third in the [FIFA] World Cup. Their league has good quality and Besiktas are leading it. That's why we have to be very careful.
'Fast and active'
"Besides, we had a friendly with them during the summer and lost 3-1. They are a fast and active team. I don't think they will come here with a defensive game in mind. They will want to win it as they did the Chelsea game." That 2-0 victory in London alerted Europe to the strength of the Turkish champions after their Matchday 1 defeat by Lazio.
Consistent team selection
As for Besiktas's midfield danger man, Sergen Yalçin, the double-goalscorer against Chelsea, Kotrba added: "You do not see man-to-man marking nowadays. There are different defensive tactics in football. That is why I don't think we'll use any special defensive tactics for Sergen." Indeed, Kotrba hinted at using much the same side that beat FK Viktoria Žižkov away in the league on Sunday.
Sparta's only injury worry is over their defender Jan Flachbart, who has a shoulder problem, but Kotrba is confident he will be available. Besiktas coach Mircea Lucescu also has a fit side with Ibrahim Uzulmez available after being rested at the weekend against Diyarbakirspor, a game they won 1-0 to stay top of the Turkish Super League, though striker Ilhan Mansiz is suspended after being sent off at Chelsea.
Lucescu said this was a crucial encounter, declaring: "It is more important than the match against Chelsea on the last Matchday.
This is the last chance for Sparta, who are a very well-organised and disciplined team, to qualify and we have also to win if we would like to finish the group stage in first or second place."
'Balanced and equal'
He added that the Matchday 2 results proved how tight the pool is. "Everything is balanced and equal in the group," he said. "They all said Chelsea and Lazio are the strongest. But, after two games it showed that the group is balanced. I believe the competition will go on until the last match."
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