MŠK Žilina are closing in on their debut appearance in the UEFA Champions League group stage having taking command of their tie with AC Sparta Praha following the away first leg.
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MŠK Žilina are looking to reach the UEFA Champions League group stage for the first time and hold the upper hand after the first leg of their tie against an AC Sparta Praha side who have plenty of pedigree in the competition.
• Pavel Hapal's team seized control of the tie in Prague thanks to second-half goals from Momodou Ceesay and Tomáš Oravec that earned a famous win.
• The Slovakian titleholders are in only their fifth European Champion Clubs' Cup campaign – all since 2002 – and reached the third qualifying round in 2003/04, although they have never before won more than a single tie in a season in the competition. This time round, Žilina 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 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.
• The Czech team have also shown impressive form in their away games, however, defeating SK Liepājas Metalurgs 3-0 (5-0 overall) and KKS Lech Poznań 1-0 (2-0 on aggregate) so far this term.
• A year ago Žilina went down 3-1 on aggregate to FK Partizan in the UEFA Europa League play-off round while 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 Sparta had never faced Slovakian opposition in UEFA competition before the first leg, Žilina have a fine record to defend after the first leg in Prague with three wins and three draws in six games against teams from the Czech Republic. Three of those matches 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 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 50km away from Zilina. He played for Czechoslovakia at the 1990 FIFA 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 World Cup finals.
• Žilina captain Jež spent five years with Czech side FC Viktoria Plzeň between 2000 and 2005, also having a short spell at 1. FK Príbram. 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.