Šmicer the jewel in Slavia's crown

New SK Slavia Praha midfielder Vladimír Šmicer could play his first UEFA Champions League game since scoring in the epic 2005 final against MŠK Žilina today.

Vladimír Šmicer could make his first appearance since returning to SK Slavia Praha - and first in the UEFA Champions League since scoring as Liverpool FC overcame AC Milan in the epic 2005 final - as they meet MŠK Žilina in the first leg of their second qualifying round tie tonight.

Eleven-year absence
The 34-year-old has been the pick of coach Karel Jarolím's summer signings as he showed a canny eye for a bargain. Šmicer has returned to Slavia eleven years after leaving for RC Lens following the expiry of his contract at FC Girondins de Bordeaux and the capital club are hoping he can recover from a knee injury in time to make the trip to Slovakia. "I am returning to where I grew up," said Šmicer. "I want to help Slavia in the Czech league as well as in UEFA Champions League qualification."

'World significance'
General manager Petr Dolezal was delighted to welcome him back, saying: "We have signed a footballer of world significance. It was a priority for our club to welcome Vladimír back to his favourite Czech club." Slavia are especially keen to see the 81-times capped international back on his feet having lost their strongest midfield players during the summer. The coach's son Lukáš Jarolím has joined AC Siena while Slovakian Dušan Švento may be out for some time after suffering a knee ligament injury while on trial with Derby County FC.

Experienced goalkeeper
Slavia will be hoping that experience will also pay dividends elsewhere on the pitch after signing 37-year-old goalkeeper Martin Vaniak. Capped seven times by the Czech Republic, his national team career stalled when he left SK Sigma Olomouc for Greek side Panionios NFC in 2005. However, he impressed last season at FC SIAD Most and will now look to make an impact in Europe's top club competition.

Returning stars
With the existing Slavia squad having been very youthful, the arrival of 30-year-old defender Eric Brabec will add some defensive nous as he returns to Czech football after six seasons spent playing for clubs in Russia, Turkey, Austria and Switzerland. The 26-year-old striker Zdenek Šenkerík has also returned home after one year in Turkish football with Malatyaspor.

French acquisitions
The canny Jarolím has also been scouring the French leagues, where he ended his playing days and started his management career as joint-coach of RC Strasbourg six years ago. Midfielder Mickaël Tavares has moved to Prague from second division FC Tours, signing a two-year deal, while countryman Tijani Belaid has arrived on loan from FC Internazionale Milano.

Young hopefuls
Having won silver medals at the recent FIFA U-20 World Cup in Canada, the likes of Marek Suchý, Petr Janda and Marcel Gecov are likely to continue to command a first-team place despite the arrival of all of those reinforcements, and as Žilina may find to their cost tonight, a mix of youth and experience can be an extremely potent one in European football.

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