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Slavia striving to show their class

Coach Karel Jarolím says SK Slavia Praha are determined to show they belong among Europe's élite when they tackle FC Steaua Bucureşti in Group H on Wednesday.

Coach Karel Jarolím says SK Slavia Praha are determined to show they belong among Europe's élite when they make their long-awaited first step in the UEFA Champions League group stage against FC Steaua Bucureşti in Group H.

'Show we deserved it'
"Of course we're looking forward to Wednesday's game because we have qualified for the Champions League after such a long time," said Jarolím, whose side overcame Slovakian title-winners MŠK Žilina in the second qualifying round before stunning four-time European champions AFC Ajax to clinch a coveted place at the continent's top table after five failed attempts. "In the group stage, we would like to prove that we deserved to qualify."

Winning ambition
Having eclipsed Ajax, the ex-Slavia midfielder must now pit his wits against another former European title-holder in Steaua. Jarolím believes his players and the capacity 19,000 crowd packed into the cosy Evzena Rošického Stadium can ensure the party does not fall flat. "I don't expect Steaua to come to Prague and simply defend – I expect they've come here to try and take all three points," he said. "But we're at home, and I believe that with the support of our fans we can start with a win."

Major boost
Slavia's hopes have received a major boost with Vladimír Šmicer, a UEFA Champions League winner with Liverpool FC in 2005, poised to take his place on the right side of midfield after unexpectedly shaking off a thigh strain. French midfielder Mickaël Tavares is available too after recovering from a similar injury, and the return to fitness of forward Petr Janda and Slovakian international Matej Krajčík means Jarolím's only major absentee is Michal Švec.

Domestic strife
While Slavia are unbeaten after six games and sit proudly atop the Czech top flight, Steaua's domestic form has trailed off worryingly in recent weeks. Sunday's goalless home draw against FC Rapid Bucureşti was their third match without a win or a goal. Yet while accepting that his charges face a tough examination in the Czech capital, Steaua boss Gheorghe Hagi insists the Romanian club's troubles at home will not be replicated in Europe.

"They are a very well-organised side and they are playing at home so they'll be doing everything to win," said the former Romania captain. "But we're going to play in the Champions League, for which every player is highly motivated. We respect Slavia but we're going to do everything to be the better team on the pitch and win the game."

Dica threat
With skipper Mirel Radoi and summer signing Mihaita Plesan both long-term injury victims, Florin Lovin and Ovidiu Petre should underpin the visitors in midfield. Steaua's main threat ought to come from Nicolae Dică, who has scored three Liga 1 goals this term in addition to his strike in the 4-2 aggregate defeat of Belarussian champions FC BATE Borisov in the third qualifying round.