By Sam Beckwith at the Toyota Arena
Sylvain Wiltord's first goal for Olympique Lyonnais since joining from Arsenal FC proved decisive as the French side came back from a goal behind to hold on to their unbeaten record this season, and gain their first win in UEFA Champions League Group D.
Wiltord struck 13 minutes into the second half after Mickaël Essien had hit a stunning equaliser in response to an early Tomáš Jun header which had given AC Sparta Praha an early advantage.
Lyon had slightly the better chances in an opening spell that highlighted the two team's differing approaches to the game. The French side relied largely on precise diagonal crosses into the Sparta penalty area where the technical ability of strikers Sidney Govou and Wiltord created problems for the home team's defence.
Sparta, sticking to coach František Straka's gameplan, attempted to test Lyon down the wings, employing the talents of Karel Poborský on the right and Aleš Urbánek on the left. However, their goalkeeper Jaromír Blazek needed to be fully alert when Govou burst into his penalty area after just four minutes, and then Wiltord shot wide of the near-post a minute later.
It was Sparta, though, who created the opening goal on seven minutes, when striker Jun connected with right-back Pavel Pergl's cross to head beyond Lyon goalkeeper Grégory Coupet. After going behind, the French champions gradually began to increase the pressure, with Brazilian playmaker Juninho Pernambucano's precision ball releasing Govou down the right. Blazek, however, calmly gathered the striker's dangerous-looking cross.
However, Sparta, inspired by Poborský's exciting runs from deep, remained a threat on the counterattack. Milan Pacanda tested Coupet from long range, hitting a stinging shot that the French veteran gathered at the second attempt, and curly-haired midfielder Lukáš Zelenka also had a good chance to increase the Czech side's lead on 21 minutes, but shot over instead.
At the other end, another brilliant ball from Juninho set Govou clear through on goal only for Blazek to save bravely at close range. Lyon's pressure paid off on 25 minutes, though, when a well-worked move ended with Essien striking a powerful equaliser for the French team. Tomáš Sivok later picked up the only booking of a high-tempo but generally good-natured game on the half hour, following a challenge on Govou.
The second half began in much the same way as the first had ended, with Lyon continuing to put Sparta under sustained pressure and the Czech league leaders still looking like a potent threat on the break.
Sparta looked to have restored their lead when Jun dribbled around Coupet and slotted home from close range, but the ball was adjudged to have gone out for a goal kick earlier in the move. Lyon applied the killer blow shortly after, when Florent Malouda found Witord unmarked in the penalty area, allowing the French international to slip the ball beyond Blazek and shoot into an empty net.
Lyon hold firm
Sparta's best chance to equalise came 15 minutes from time, when Urbánek struck the crossbar from a free kick following a Poborský dummy. Having survived that threat, and with Sparta clearly tiring, Lyon were able to hold on for all three points.
Sparta will continue their search for their first group points when leaders Manchester United FC visit Prague on 19 October fresh from their 6-2 win against Fenerbahçe SK, who go to Lyon the same night.