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Sparta see off Asteras to qualify

Sparta Praha 1-0 Asteras
Jakub Brabec's first-half header sent Sparta into the knockout rounds at the expense of their nearest rivals Asteras in Group K.

Highlights: Sparta Praha 1-0 Asteras
  • Sparta qualify for knockouts for third time in seven UEFA Cup/UEFA Europa League group stages
  • Jakub Brabec scores on 33 minutes with precise header from Bořek Dočkal corner
  • Czech international Lukáš Vácha returns to action after 98-day injury lay-off
  • Nicolás Fernández hits post with early cross-shot for Greek side
  • Final Group K games: APOEL v Sparta Praha, Asteras v Schalke (10 December)

Sparta Praha qualified for the UEFA Europa League knockout rounds after a narrow win over Asteras Tripolis, their nearest rivals in Group K.

Jakub Brabec's solitary first-half goal sufficed for Sparta to extend to 12 games their unbeaten home run in this competition. The defender's all-important contribution came in the 33rd minute, heading Bořek Dočkal's outswinging corner into the bottom corner. The resulting victory lifts Zdeněk Ščasný's team five points clear of third-placed Asteras, with section leaders Schalke still two better off.

However, the first big chance had belonged to Asteras, Nicolás Fernández rattling the right upright with a cross-shot. Sparta replied with Kehinde Fatai's close-range effort that Kostas Theodoropoulos saved with his legs.

Dočkal, from distance, also forced two good saves from the keeper before setting up Brabec's breakthrough. A second goal might have arrived on 58 minutes when David Lafata's close-range header was kept out by Theodoropoulos, and Lafata was then centimetres from turning in Fatai's centre.

With Staikos Vergetis's side carrying a threat on the counter, home midfielder Lukáš Vácha did a good job shielding the defence on his comeback from a knee injury, although Pablo Mazza and Apostolos Giannou spurned decent openings for the visitors. Even after Sparta went down to ten men with Ladislav Krejčí's 82nd-minute dismissal, they were unable to capitalise – with the now-qualified home team the beneficiaries.