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Having finally negotiated the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round, AC Sparta Praha are closing in on a return to the group stage. Standing in their way are a MŠK Žilina team who are, for only the second time in their history, a tie away from reaching the group stage.
• Sparta have lost in the third qualifying round for the last three seasons but have appeared in the group stage on seven occasions, including five times in six campaigns between 1999 and 2005.
• Žilina, meanwhile, are in only their fifth European Champion Clubs' Cup campaign – all since 2002 – and have never before won more than a single tie in a season in the competition. This time round, the Slovakian champions overcame Birkirkara FC 3-1 on aggregate and PFC Litex Lovech 4-2 over two legs in the second and third qualifying rounds respectively, scoring three goals at home in the second leg in each tie.
• Sparta have also shown impressive form in their home games, however, defeating SK Liepājas Metalurgs 2-0 (5-0 overall) and KKS Lech Poznań 1-0 (2-0 overall) in Prague so far in this campaign.
• A year ago Sparta were beaten 4-3 over two legs by Panathinaikos FC in the third qualifying round despite winning the first leg 3-1 at home while Žilina were beaten 3-1 on aggregate by FK Partizan in the UEFA Europa League play-off round.
• While Sparta have never faced Slovakian opposition in UEFA competition, Žilina have a fine record to defend after two wins and three draws in five games against teams from the Czech Republic. Three of those games have ended goalless, however, all three against Sparta's city rivals SK Slavia Praha – in the 2007/08 UEFA Champions League second qualifying round (Žilina ultimately losing the tie 4-3 on penalties) and the UEFA Cup group stage the following season.
• The Slovakian side were celebrating following their meeting with FC Slovan Liberec in the 2008/09 UEFA Cup second qualifying round after a 4-2 aggregate triumph, winning both legs 2-1. Striker Róbert Jež scored the decisive goal in both legs.
• Žilina coach Pavel Hapal had a short spell at Sparta in 2000, making six league appearances and three in the UEFA Champions League.
• By guiding Žilina to the league title last season, Hapal followed in footsteps of fellow Czech coaches Leoš Kalvoda and Pavel Vrba, who both achieved the feat with the Slovakian side.
• Sparta coach Jozef Chovanec was born in Dolne Kockovce in Slovakia, around 50 kilometres away from Zilina. He played for Czechoslovakia at the 1990 World Cup.
• Žilina's squad includes four Czechs: Ondřej Šourek, Emil Rilke, Martin Vyskočil and Dennis Christu.
• There are three Slovakians in the Sparta squad: Igor Žofčák, Juraj Kucka and Miloš Lačný. Midfielder Kucka was part of Slovakia's squad at this summer's FIFA World Cup finals.
• Žilina captain Róbert Jež spent five years with Czech side FC Viktoria Plzeň between 2000 and 2005, also having a short spell at 1. FK Príbram. Tomáš Oravec (FC Viktoria Žižkov, 2002-2004) and Vladimír Leitner (FK Teplice, 2000 to 2004) have also had spells in Czech football.
• Rilke scored five goals in 62 league games for FK Teplice between 2003 and 2006; three came in 2-1 wins against Sparta in 2004/05 and 2005/06. Prior to joining Žilina in 2008, the midfielder scored only six league goals in 102 league appearances in Czech football.
• Bondoa Adiaba had two seasons with Slovakian club DAC 1904 Dunajská Streda before joining Sparta on loan over the summer, while Leonard Kweuke also had a spell at the club in 2008/09. Kweuke scored 11 goals in 16 league appearances for Dunajská Streda, including one in a 2-0 home win against Žilina on 5 October 2008.
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