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By Sam Beckwith in Prague
Fenerbahçe SK aim to maintain their slim UEFA Champions League hopes at AC Sparta Praha on Tuesday but both teams are without key players for the Group D clash.
UEFA Cup focus
Fenerbahçe, who need victory to have any chance of making the knockout rounds, miss Dutch striker Pierre van Hooijdonk - scorer of the only goal of the sides' Matchday 1 meeting. Sparta, meanwhile, are shorn of captain Karel Poborský and defender Jirí Homola as they seek to secure UEFA Cup entry, having already been eliminated from the next round of the Champions League.
Defeat for Sparta would rule out the possibility of a third-place finish, yet a win would take them above Fenerbahçe with one game to go. However, Poborský's red card late in the 4-1 loss at Manchester United FC, along with Homola's booking in the same match, leaves both suspended, and coach František Straka may also be without right-back Pavel Pergl who was injured over the weekend.
It is Poborský's absence that worries Straka most. "We will miss him badly - he is a team leader," he said. "But there is no point beating ourselves up over it, we are going to have to come to terms with it." Poborský also sat out Sparta's opening defeat at Fenerbahçe through injury. But while Straka favoured Miroslav Baranek as Poborský's replacement in Istanbul, this time he is set to start with Jan Šimák on the right of midfield.
The talented Šimák has been a bit-part player at Sparta for much of the season, struggling to regain full fitness since returning to Czech football after a difficult spell in Germany. Straka, however, believes that Šimák's performance in Saturday's 3-1 league win against FK Jablonec 97 proved that the 26-year-old is worth a place. "
He is getting better from game to game," Straka said, after giving Šimák 62 minutes against Jablonec.
The weekend result protected Sparta's lead at the top of the First Division but the Champions League has presented more of a challenge to Straka's squad. Sparta are still chasing their first Group D win, having scored only twice in four games.
Fenerbahçe, meanwhile, have not built on their good start in beating Sparta, having lost 6-2 at United and then gone down 3-1 and 4-2 in matches against Olympique Lyonnais. To make matters worse, Van Hooijdonk has flu and an achilles problem which forced him out of Saturday's 2-0 win at Trabzonspor - a result that took Fenerbahçe five points clear at the top of the Turkish Superleague.
Three points in Prague, and defeat for United at home to Lyon, would leave Fenerbahçe able to go through with a victory against the English side in Istanbul on Matchday 6. However, Fenerbahçe coach Christoph Daum has already ruled out overhauling United and is focusing on securing a UEFA Cup campaign.
'Two more years'
Before the Champions League, I said it would be very difficult for us to succeed and I was harshly criticised for that," Daum said. "But that is the reality - this team needs two more years before it can compete in a competition like this. We can succeed in the UEFA Cup though."
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