F.Y.R. Macedonian champions FK Vardar came from two goals behind only to be beaten by a last-minute Karel Poborský goal as AC Sparta Praha ran out 3-2 winners in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League third qualifying round tie.
Vardar, the only survivors from the first qualifying round, were hoping for a repeat of their victory against PFC CSKA Moskva, but found the early stages tough going against a side with considerable Champions League experience. However, on 15 minutes, Vardar had the first chance when Dragan Nacevski's free-kick forced a save from Jaromir Blazek.
Home side close
The home side went close again in the 33rd minute as Rogerio Da Costa ran on to Slavco Georgievski's pass, but Blazek got the better of their one-on-one. It was not one-way traffic, however. Sparta's Libor Sionko tested Vardar goalkeeper Muarem Zekir and on 37 minutes the visitors went in front.
Poborský’s free-kick from 30 metres caught out the Vardar defence and sailed in. Another free-kick three minutes later doubled the lead as this time Igor Gluscevic’s quickly taken effort found the target as the wall was still forming.
In the second half, though, Vardar fought back. On the hour, Dimitrar Spasovski's strong volley from ten metres pulled a goal back and eleven minutes later the visitors were down to ten men when defender Mirko Poledica was shown his second yellow card.
It took only two minutes for Vardar to make that one-man advantage count. Srdan Zaharievski crossed from the right and Slavco Georgievski headed in to level the scores. Yet Sparta struck back as former Manchester United FC player Poborský scored in the last minute to make it 3-2.
'We will give our best'
Vardar coach Zoran Stratev said: "I am satisfied at how my players played this game. We lost the match after our mistakes.
I am pleased how we played in the second half when we dominated and scored two goals. I must say that we can try to win in Prague. I believe in my players and we will give our best to win."
His opposite number, Jirí Kotrba, said: "We played very well in the first half. We deserved to score goals in the first half. In the second period Vardar were the better team but
I am satisfied with the result."