A Jirí Novotny own goal just before half-time was enough to see FC Bayern München beat AC Sparta Praha 1-0 to go through to the second stage group of the UEFA Champions League as Group H winners.
The game started at a rapid pace and Sparta almost took the lead after 19 minutes. Peter Babnic did well to direct his backward header into the path of Libor Sionko and the Czech forward twisted acrobatically to get his shot away but the ball went just wide.
Both sides were setting an electric pace and consequently mistakes were being made. Samuel Kuffour and Michael Tarnat were constantly peppering the Sparta backline but there was no threat to Petr Cech’s goal.
Bayern took the lead on 40 minutes. Tarnat whipped in a signature left-footed cross which Novotny – under pressure from Alexander Zickler – headed past Cech, who could only watch in despair as the ball flew into the top right-hand corner.
Zickler, the Bayern captain, showed great skill on the stroke of half-time in turning a Sparta defender inside out before unleashing a left-foot shot which Cech did well to save with an outstretched leg.
The Bayern wing-back let fly again with his trusty left foot after a neat interchange with Zickler but Cech was again alert to the danger, parrying the shot to safety.
It was not to be the veteran Novotny’s night as he had a glorious opportunity to make amends for his own goal on 66 minutes but the 31-year-old could not keep his shot down from close range.
Chances go begging
Sparta managed to create a further two good chances but were unable to make either count. The first fell to Libor Sionko on 79 minutes but the striker’s half-volley flew over the bar. Five minutes later Marek Kincl had the time to pick his spot but somehow contrived to steer his shot wide.
Cech to the rescue
The final chance of the game fell to substitute Roque Santa Cruz. The 20-year-old Paraguayan sensation left his marker for dead and fired in a low, powerful shot which looked destined for the bottom corner. Cech, however, had other ideas and produced a brilliant reflex save.
Worthy group winners
Ottmar Hitzfeld, who led the Bavarian club to Champions League glory last season, must have been delighted with his side’s performance, with Zickler the most impressive performer on show. Bayern showed great composure throughout, but Sparta will be ruing a host of squandered chances.