"This is why you play football, to achieve something like this," said a delighted Jakub Brabec after his header booked Sparta Praha's place in the round of 32.
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It does not get a whole lot better for a footballer than scoring the goal that sends your side to the next round of a European competition, so it was no surprise to find Jakub Brabec with a huge smile on his face following Sparta Praha's 1-0 Group K victory over Asteras Tripolis.
"This is why you play football, to achieve something like this," said the 23-year-old defender, who also found the net during Sparta's 2-0 triumph against APOEL on UEFA Europa League matchday two. "The career [of a footballer] is not long, so we have to enjoy these moments when they do come along. It was a winner sealing our qualification – what else do we need to say?"
A crucial factor in Sparta's success in Europe has been their home record – the Asteras match made it 12 games unbeaten at Stadion Letná – and Brabec is desperate for this run to continue come the round of 32. "[Our record] speaks for itself, but a good sequence of results does not win games on its own. However, I definitely want this streak to carry on in the spring."
Sparta coach Zdeněk Ščasný explained that the groundwork for this campaign was laid in the above-mentioned success over APOEL on 1 October. "The home win against APOEL calmed us down," he said. "It was a very tight game and we won it and built from there. Then in the two matches against Schalke we played well and picked up two vital points, which set up this game – the result of which has made us very happy."
Undefeated Sparta's total of seven home points and two garnered away has put them out of reach of Greek team Asteras and Cyprus's APOEL in a section led by Schalke.
The challenge now, insists Brabec, is to see if his side have learned from previous forays into the UEFA Europa League knockout phase – in 2011 against Liverpool and two years later against Chelsea – when they failed to advance any further than the round of 32. "I am sure every season [in the UEFA Europa League] helps us to improve as we gain the experience only games at this level can bring," the centre-back said.
"We will all be looking forward to playing against a tough opponent," promised team-mate Lukáš Mareček, with the midfielder adding: "We did well against Schalke, so I will not complain if we end up going back to Germany. We want to see how far we can get."