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By Ladislav Josef at Toyota Arena
A goal from defender Jirí Homola deep into extra time sent AC Sparta Praha into the UEFA Champions League group stage for the seventh time with the narrowest of victories against Ferencvárosi TC in the Czech Republic.
Having lost 1-0 in Hungary a fortnight ago, the pressure was on the Czech champions to deliver on their home ground and, after Lukáš Zelenka had levelled the tie on aggregate in first-half stoppage time, Homola – blamed in some quarters for Ferencváros' winner in Budapest – ended the hopes of the Hungarian side in the 114th minute.
Although Sparta began the match in determined fashion, the home team looked short of ideas and failed to carve out a single chance in the first 30 minutes. In contrast, Ferencváros – missing captain Péter Lipcsei through injury – had a golden chance to double their aggregate lead in the 21st minute.
However, Robert Vagner, the Czech player who scored against his countrymen two weeks ago in Budapest and must have been even more motivated tonight having represented Sparta's city rivals SK Slavia Praha, was unable to convert a cross from in front of goal.
Sparta coach Frantisek Straka was clearly dissatisfied with his side's first-half display and introduced attacking midfield player Rastislav Michalík for left-back Martin Petras after just half an hour. The change proved inspired as, in added time at the end of the half, the substitute's deflected free-kick fell perfectly for Zelenka to level the tie.
Straka further bolstered his attack just before the hour with the introduction of Petr Vorisek in a bid to decide the tie in normal time. Sparta captain Karel Poborský, who won his 100th international cap last week, almost won the match in audacious style 13 minutes from time but his clever back-heel rolled just wide of the far post.
Sparta continued to control the tempo, although they were unable to find a further goal as the match moved towards extra time. Ferencváros goalkeeper Lajos Szücs was forced to make an excellent save from Marek Cech's long-range shot. Then the home side finally made the breakthrough in the 114th minute, substitute Miroslav Baranek meeting Poborský's corner with a powerful header that the goalkeeper could only parry and Homola was on hand to send Sparta through.
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