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Vibrant Sparta edge out Palermo

AC Sparta Praha 3-2 US Città di Palermo
Sparta took the Group F honours on Matchday 1 courtesy of a narrow but deserved victory against their visitors from Italy's Serie A.

Jiří Kladrubský is congratulated by Sparta captain Tomáš Řepka
Jiří Kladrubský is congratulated by Sparta captain Tomáš Řepka ©Getty Images

AC Sparta Praha started their UEFA Europa League Group F campaign in impressive fashion with a deserved triumph against US Città di Palermo.

Wilfried Bony put Sparta ahead on 17 minutes and though Massimo Maccarone equalised before the break, the lively Jiří Kladrubský restored the hosts' lead midway through the second half. Václav Kadlec increased the advantage soon after, rendering Abel Hernández's cheeky late effort no more than a consolation.

A vibrant Sparta team signalled their intent inside two minutes when Kladrubský let fly from 25 metres, forcing Italy goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu into a diving save to his right. Kladrubský was enjoying himself and after firing wide on the quarter-hour mark he delivered a cross to the back post which Bony headed back across goal into the far corner.

A shoot-on-sight policy was clearly in operation for Sparta, who threatened from range again moments later when Kadlec pressed Sirigu into action. Two efforts from Maccarone excepted, little had been seen of Palermo as an attacking force yet the Rosanero were on level terms seven minutes before half-time.

In keeping with what had gone before, Javier Pastore unleashed a shot which Jaromír Blažek could only parry into the path of Maccarone, who tucked away the rebound. The tricky Pastore then slipped in Hernández to poke wide on the hour before rattling the crossbar with a dipping attempt.

If Palermo were beginning to gain the upper hand, they found themselves behind once more on 68 minutes, the unmarked Kladrubský heading in Manuel Pamić's left-wing cross. With the Serie A side shocked, Sparta netted a third through 18-year-old Kadlec, who outmuscled Kamil Glik and Fabio Liverani at the near post and turned the ball in from close range. Hernández gave Delio Rossi's team hope by flicking in Federico Balzaretti's low ball but Sparta comfortably held out.