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Sparta welcome Athletic to fortress Prague

AC Sparta Praha have a disappointing record against Spanish sides but will hope their impressive home form continues when Athletic Club visit the Czech capital in Group I.

Sparta opened the group stage with a loss to Lyon
Sparta opened the group stage with a loss to Lyon ©AFP/Getty Images

AC Sparta Praha will hope home form counts for something as they look to arrest a miserable run of results against Spanish teams when Athletic Club visit in UEFA Europa League Group I.

Previous meetings
• This is the sides' first meeting and also Athletic's first encounter with Czech opponents.

• Sparta's 15 games against Spanish clubs have ended W4 D1 L10 (W3 D0 L5 in Prague – W1 D1 L5 in Spain).

• Sparta have lost their last seven games against Spanish sides (including four home defeats) since a 1-0 victory against FC Barcelona in the group stage of the 1991/92 European Champion Clubs' Cup on 1 April 1992 – over 20 years ago.

Match background
• Sparta are unbeaten in eight European home games – four wins and four draws – since a 2-0 defeat by MŠK Žilina in the 2010/11 UEFA Champions League play-offs.

• Athletic have not won in their last three European away fixtures – not including last season's UEFA Europa League final – though they ended a run of three straight defeats with a 3-3 draw at HJK Helsinki in this season's play-offs.

• This is Sparta's fifth group stage campaign in this competition – they made it through to the knockout phase for the first time at the fourth attempt in 2010/11.

• Athletic came into their fourth group stage in this competition with a 100% record: they have qualified for the knockout phase in each of their three previous appearances.

Team facts
• Athletic's Kepa Arrizabalaga celebrates his 18th birthday on the eve of the game.

• Sparta boast Spanish talent in the form of defender Pablo Gil, who played for Albacete Balompié and Real Madrid CF's B team before coming to the Czech Republic.

• Sparta midfielder Jiří Jarošík also has experience of Spanish football, having played for Real Zaragoza between January 2010 and May 2011.

• Vitězslav Lavička represented Sparta in three spells as a midfielder in the 1980s and 1990s, and is now in his second term as the club's coach, following a spell in charge in 2008. Once coach of the Czech Under-21 side, he won the Australian title with Sydney FC in 2009/10 before returning to Prague in 2012.

• Athletic coach Marcelo Bielsa was a midfielder in his native Argentina, initially with CA Newell's Old Boys, the club where he started his coaching career. Briefly boss of RCD Espanyol in 1998, the studious Bielsa was in charge of Argentina (1998-2004) and Chile (2007-11) before coming to Bilbao, where he reached the finals of the Copa del Rey and UEFA Europa League in his first season.