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AC Sparta Praha secured the most dramatic of Matchday 6 victories over S.S. Lazio to win a place in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League thanks to Marek Kincl's goal in the third minute of added time.
The Letná stadium was sent into raptures when the substitute glanced in Karel Poborský's free-kick with practically the last touch of the game. With Cheslea FC beating Besiktas JK 2-0 in Gelsenkirchen, Sparta finished second in Group G - a remarkable achievement for Jirí Kotrba's side. Lazio, in contrast, finished bottom of the section.
The hosts certainly had the better of the first half. Fired by the industrious Lukáš Zelenka and the clever Poborský, Sparta were winning the midfield contest with ease. Only in the closing stages of the half did Lazio come to life and almost steal the lead.
With seven minutes played, Sparta had their first chance. Zelenka's courageous header set up Poborský from a tight angle. The home captain tried an ambitious volley, attempting to loop it over Angelo Peruzzi, but the Lazio goalkeeper was equal to it.
On 22 minutes, Libor Sionko came forward again. A clever lay-off from striker Igor Glušcevic sent the Czech international free in the box, where he opted to cross teasingly to the far post. Unfortunately for Sparta, no one was there to convert. Lazio created their first real chance when Jaap Stam headed a Stefano Fiore corner over the bar, but Sparta responded immediately, Poborský's far-post shot being blocked by a pack of Lazio players.
Just before the half-hour mark, Poborský should have given Sparta the lead. Zelenka played him in down the right channel with a weighted pass, but the veteran midfield player's low driven shot was well saved by Peruzzi with his legs. Zelenka had a chance of his own soon after, weaving his way into the box only to be denied by Paulo Negro's interception.
Aside from Petr Johana's excellent sliding tackle on Gueri Gottardi on 23 minutes, Lazio had not threatened before their late burst. Dejan Stankovic began to exert his influence from the left of midfield and Roberto Mancini's side looked sharp. A Gottardi snap-shot and a Roberto Muzzi drive went close before Stankovic headed a Fiore corner narrowly over at the near post.
The tempo of the game was increased after the break. Both sides sensed victory and began committing more numbers forward and chances came thick and fast. The first fell to Lazio, as they caught Sparta cold. However, Gottardi strayed offside three times to end promising spells of Lazio possession.
On 49 minutes, Zelenka showed tremendous skill as he cushioned the ball around his marker before shooting wide with his left foot. The game promptly exploded into life, with Lazio dramatically seizing control.
Stankovic saw a fierce shot deflect narrowly over and Fiore's first-time effort was deflected wide. The Italian international then went even closer, as his powerful shot came back off the far post with Blazek beaten. The rebound looked like a formality for Bernardo Corradi, but Blazek came from nowhere to make the save.
Sparta almost scored a lucky goal in the 77th minute. Radoslav Kovác's shot was going well wide when it deflected off the back of Igor Glušcevic and looped on to the bar. With five minutes to go, news filtered through that Chelsea had scored the first of their two goals, resulting in the frantic final minutes and Kincl's dramatic denouement.
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