AC Sparta Praha 4-2 KRC Genk (Agg: 4-4, Genk win on away goals) Brave Sparta go out.
AC Sparta Praha 4-2 KRC Genk (4-4 on aggregate, Genk win on away goals)
The Czech side recovered a 2-0 first-leg deficit - twice coming from behind to beat the Belgian champions 4-2 on the night - yet missed out by the narrowest margin.
Aiming for a fourth straight appearance in the Champions League group stage, Sparta poured forward from the first whistle. But it was the visitors who struck first: Josip Skoko crossing for Belli Dagano to apply the finish on 25 minutes.
Poborský achieves parity
The Sparta equaliser came ten minutes after the restart, coach Jozef Jarabinský having decided to revive his team by replacing Baranek with Marek Kincl at the interval. Karel Poborský achieved what team-mates Pavel Mares and Lukas Zelenka had failed to do shortly before half-time, when hitting the woodwork, beating Jan Moons with a left-foot shot.
But, as Jarabinský later admitted, the goals would come too late to save Sparta. "The second-half display was sparkling, but luck was not on our side and they were more clinical than us." As if to underline the point, Wesley Sonck immediately cut short the home celebrations by restoring the visitors' advantage.
No surrender by Sparta
To their credit, however, the Sparta players kept their heads up and were rewarded two minutes later when Jirí Jarosík, their star performer, registered with a deflected free-kick.
That left the Letná outfit needing to score three times in the last 30 minutes - and they could only manage two. Jarosík headed them into the lead on 64 minutes, before Pavel Mares's 84th-minute effort set up a tense finish for the away team.
'We were lucky'
So fraught, in fact, that Genk, having fought a 45-minute rearguard action, were on their knees by the final whistle. Their coach, Sef Vergoossen, said: "We made mistakes under pressure in the second half. Sparta played very well and we were fortunate to go through. Our two-goal advantage from the first leg proved decisive though."