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Momodou Ceesay's acrobatic finish ensured MŠK Žilina saw off the challenge of AC Sparta Praha to earn a UEFA Champions League group-stage debut.
Ceesay had scored in Žilina's 2-0 win in Prague last week and he struck early in the decider to ensure his side became the third from Slovakia to reach the group stage, emulating MFK Košice in 1997/98 and FC Artmedia Petržalka eight years later. They can now look forward to discovering their opposition on Thursday, while Sparta will again compete in the UEFA Europa League.
Sparta made five changes from the first leg, two of which were enforced with Erich Brabec and Tomáš Řepka joining Marek Matějovský on the banned list. Meanwhile, Libor Sionko and top scorer Wilfried Bony were back from suspension and defender Jiří Kladrubský started despite two broken fingers. The visitors were put under pressure from the start, however, and despite Sionko enjoying the first real chance – which he put just wide on 17 minutes – Žilina went straight up the other end and scored.
It was a spectacular finish: Emil Rilke's cross from the right was teed up by Ceesay on the edge of the box and he produced a superb bicycle kick to score in his third consecutive UEFA Champions League game. The striker was then only denied by a saving tackle a couple of minutes later, before Bony had an effort blocked in the Žilina box. The Slovakian champions were soon threatening again, though, Tomáš Oravec coming close to adding another but firing over.
Sparta were handed a lifeline on 53 minutes when Mário Pečalka brought down Bony in the box, yet Kladrubský's penalty was turned around the post at full stretch by Martin Dúbravka. That miss left the Czech club reeling and they almost conceded again as Ceesay and Tomáš Majtán put Žilina back on the offensive. Bony broke through only to drag his shot wide at the other end, but although he and his Sparta colleagues never let their heads drop, there was no way back.
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