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UEFA Champions League debutants FC Thun will take confidence from recent history when they play their first home game in the competition against AC Sparta Praha on Tuesday.
The Swiss club, for whom the match in Berne marks the latest episode in a rags-to-riches story, beat the Czech champions 2-1 in a pre-season friendly. "We know we have a chance because we defeated Sparta in a game this summer," coach Urs Schönenberger said, before issuing a warning to his players who were unfortunate to lose to a last-gasp goal at Arsenal FC on Matchday 1.
'We want to win'
"We want to win and the minimum requirement is a point. We need to play to our best, otherwise the opposition could prove too strong." Whatever the quality of Sparta, Arsenal or AFC Ajax in Group B, however, Schönenberger believes a third-place finish in the section - and continued participation in UEFA competition - is within his side's capabilities. "My goal is still to get that third place," he said.
According to Schönenberger, Thun's task has been made easier by Sparta's decision to drop captain and Czech international winger Karel Poborský from their squad for publicly criticising coach Jaroslav Hrebík. Poborský is now on loan at SK Dynamo Ceské Budéjovice - and will be missed. "We have scouted Sparta twice and have seen two completely different sides. The team were much stronger when Poborský played than on Saturday when they lost [2-0] at home to [FC] Baník Ostrava."
Not that Thun are at full strength following their own weekend defeat, 2-1 at FC Aarau. Midfielder Tiago Bernardi has concussion, captain Andreas Gerber is struggling with a long-standing achilles problem, while goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic and striker Mauro Lustrinelli are carrying knocks but should play. Nevertheless, Sparta coach Hrebík expects a tough contest from "very compact" opponents "who play good and modern football". "Even in the summer I thought they would beat [FC] Dynamo Kyiv in qualifying and have a chance for the group stage," he said.
Offer to resign
These are difficult times for the 56-year-old, who offered to resign after the Baník game only to receive a vote of confidence from his players. "I asked the players if I should go and they said 'no'. I am not surprised by that decision," added Hrebík, whose only selection worry is striker Miroslav Matušovič who has a bruised hip. If he misses out, Miroslav Slepička and Libor Došek will form the attack, despite the option of 17-year-old Jiří Jeslínek.
'Back on track'
The promise of Jeslínek is not the only possible signal of a fresh start for Sparta following a run of nine Champions League matches without a win. Midfielder Tomáš Sivok, 22, takes the captain's armband for the first time, and team-mate Lukáš Zelenka believes it could be the beginning of a new era. "We cannot look back," he said. "
This is the key match for us and if we can be more accurate in front of goal, we could get back on track here.”
Indeed, Hrebík believes playing away from home could be to Sparta's benefit as they aim to add to the solitary point taken from the Matchday 1 encounter with Ajax. "It might be a boost for Thun that Poborský is no longer in our squad, but football is played by players, not by names, so we will see. For us, with the tension that has built up around us, it is an advantage right now to play abroad."
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