FK Mladá Boleslav will start their first ever European campaign against Vålerenga IF on Wednesday with the aim of becoming only the second team from the Czech Republic to reach the UEFA Champions League group stage.
AC Sparta Praha have featured in the competition proper seven times, and if last season's Czech runners-up Mladá Boleslav want to join them they must win two knockout ties, starting with their second qualifying round test against the Norwegian champions. It has been a swift rise for Mladá Boleslav, who only made their top-flight debut in 2004/05 when they finished 14th, just avoiding relegation.
But last term they came of age despite the departure of leading scorer Michal Bednář to Heart of Midlothian FC. They clinched a place in Europe's premier club competition on a dramatic final day with a last-gasp winner against champions FC Slovan Liberec to ensure they pipped SK Slavia Praha to second place on head-to-head record. Marek Kulič struck that golden goal, his tenth of the season.
Like father, like son
The 38-year-old coach, Dušan Uhrin Jr, appointed in October 2004, is also a newcomer on the European stage. However, he has top-level football in his genes as his father led the Czech Republic to the final of EURO '96™. Even the players are entering uncharted territory; the only squad members from last season with European experience are Kulič and Radim Holub, who took part in the early rounds of the UEFA Cup with FC Marila Příbram and FK Jablonec respectively.
However, Mladá Boleslav have no intention of making up the numbers and Uhrin has been recruiting. Midfielder Tomáš Poláček has arrived from Sparta and forward Petr Mikolanda from West Ham United FC. Defender Jan Riegel has left FC Marila Příbram and also coming in is Libererc midfielder Martin Abrahám. And so the dream is on in this town 50km from Prague, most famous for its Škoda car factory, but first they must get past Vålerenga.
Uhrin said: "They have a strong midfield and dangerous attack, but I have seen weak points in the defence. Our target is to get to the third qualifying round and ensure a berth in the UEFA Cup at least."
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