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Steaua suffer in Slavia's dream debut

SK Slavia Praha 2-1 FC Steaua Bucureşti Tijani Belaid was the hero in Prague where the home team savoured a victory in their maiden group stage fixture.

Belaid winner
Zdeněk Šenkeřík gave Slavia an early lead in the Czech capital, only for Dorin Goian to equalise. But Tijani Belaid's second-half goal ensured Karel Jarolím's side made a winning start to their maiden campaign.

Nervous beginning
Concerns over the fragile fitness of Vladimír Šmicer meant that Slavia kicked off with a team of group-stage debutants; and it showed in a nervous opening. Last season's Czech 1. Liga runners-up found themselves pinned back as Steaua began confidently. With Bănel Nicoliţă providing width down the right, the front pairing of Nicolae Dică and Victoraş Iacob linked promisingly, with the latter only denied an early strike on goal by Marek Suchý's lunging block.

Dream goal
Steaua came still closer to breaking the deadlock when Goian's arcing header flew narrowly wide, yet the central defender then played an unwitting role in helping Slavia go 1-0 up on 13 minutes, conceding a free-kick just inside his own half. As the ball was hoisted forward, the surprise tactical choice of playing defender Martin Latka as a makeshift striker became clear. The 1.92m centre-back distracted the Steaua back line sufficiently to allow Stanislav Vlček to sneak in unmarked at the back post. The Slavia captain saw his shot parried by Robinson Zapata, but Šenkeřík was on hand to convert the rebound and make it a dream start for the hosts.

Deserved equaliser
The breakthrough, however, failed to change the pattern of the contest, with Nicoliţă's pace and delivery causing Slavia untold problems. Steaua's Ovidiu Petre had narrowly failed to convert one pinpoint centre, before a deep Nicoliţă corner enabled Goian to make amends as he rose highest to nod in a deserved leveller. Seeing their side pegged back failed to dampen the spirits of the Slavia fans packed into the compact Evzena Rošického Stadium, and their early second-half optimism proved well-founded. First Petr Janda's probing through ball forced Zapata to race off his line, then Steaua's Colombian international made a smart stop from Vlček's fierce cross-shot.

Increasingly isolated
While Slavia grew in confidence, Steaua's belief visibly dwindled; even the tinkering of coach Gheorghe Hagi failed to rouse the Romanian visitors. So it was no surprise when they fell behind on 63 minutes. František Dřížďal, a school cook a year ago, ventured forward down the left, bursting past the diving challenge of Valentin Bădoi before serving up an inviting cross. An intelligent dummy by Vlček at the near post resulted in the ball running to Belaid whose crisp finish gave Zapata no chance.

Stubborn Slavia