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By Sam Beckwith at Letná Stadium
Fenerbahçe SK guaranteed themselves a third-place finish in UEFA Champions League Group D on a freezing night in Prague, defeating their main rivals for a UEFA Cup place, AC Sparta Praha.
Decisive own goal
Home defender Radoslav Kovác was the unwitting architect of his own team's downfall, deflecting a cross past goalkeeper Jaromír Blazek for the game's only goal. Manchester United FC's 2-1 victory against Olympique Lyonnais means that Fenerbahçe's hopes of Champions League progress are over, but unlike Sparta the Turkish title-holders will still compete in European football after Christmas.
Sparta were not helped by the suspension of inspirational captain Karel Poborský and defender Jirí Homola following the defeat at Manchester United on Matchday 4 that ended their Champions League bid. Fenerbahçe were without Pierre van Hooijdonk, their goalscorer on Matchday 1 in their win against Sparta, through injury.
After a tight opening spell with both sides competing for midfield supremacy, visiting playmaker Alex's lob ten minutes in went only just over the bar. However, Sparta were looking to probe, troubling Fenerbahçe's defence with long passes and aggressive running.
Zelenka goes close
Midfield player Lukáš Zelenka missed a good chance to put the home team ahead after 18 minutes, making one of his trademark runs into the area only to shoot high. Not long after, though, Fenerbahçe went close - and then ahead. First Márcio Nobre sent in a close-range downward header that Blazek managed to bundle away. But, seconds later, Blazek was helpless when Kovác cut out a cross aimed at Nobre only to put the ball into his own net.
The Prague team came close to equalising on the half-hour, a series of Sparta players failing to apply the finishing touch to a goalmouth scramble in the Fenerbahçe area. Fenerbahce's counterattacking threat was amply demonstrated in the 38th minute, however, when the ball was threaded through to Nobre just inside the Sparta penalty area. Blazek, coming off his line, was swift enough to distract the Brazilian, and the final shot drifted fractionally wide as the pair collided.
Sparta coach František Straka switched strikers for the second half, bringing on Milan Pacanda in place of Jan Rezek. Despite the change, the Turkish visitors began to look increasingly comfortable on the ball, while Sparta forays into the Fenerbahçe half were significantly rarer than in the opening period.
The Istanbul side came close to extending their lead on 55 minutes when an Alex header forced Blazek to dive low to his right to make a one-handed save. Midway through the second half, though, Sparta began to fight their way back into the game, breaking into the Fenerbahçe penalty area on several occasions, but failing each time to hit the target - the best of those chances falling to Tomáš Jun on 73 minutes.
Sparta continued to press, and midfield player Tomáš Sivok's header came close to providing the Prague team with an equaliser. Once again, though, the Czech side could not make the most of a well-worked opportunity, and unlike last year's run to the Champions League last 16, their continental campaign has ended in disappointment.
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