Sparta Praha 1-1 Lazio
A marvellous Martin Frýdek strike epitomised the hosts' bright start, but Stefano Pioli's side dug in, Marco Parolo levelling before the break.
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- Martin Frýdek swings in brilliant opener as Sparta start fast
- Marco Parolo levels from loose ball following a Lazio corner
- Antonio Candreva comes within centimetres of a winner after the break
- Both sides remain unbeaten in the competition since matchday one
- The second leg is next Thursday, with the quarter-final draw the following day
Lazio showed impressive composure to scavenge a draw in Prague, Sparta Praha unable to build on Martin Frýdek's tremendous opener in their UEFA Europa League round of 16 first leg.
It was blood and thunder from the off from Sparta. Ondřej Zahustel threw himself in front of a Marco Parolo shot at one end, while David Lafata went close at the other, swinging the ball across the face of goal following a cheekily worked throw. On 13 minutes, the forward's angled ball invited Frýdek to control with one touch before swinging a terrific angled strike into the top corner of Federico Marchetti's net.
However, for all of their shaky form in Serie A, Lazio possess quality. Moments after Marchetti had saved from Ladislav Krejčí, Antonio Candreva had goalkeeper David Bičík on his back foot to claw away an effort from an improbable angle, and the scores were level with a minute. Bičík parried Wesley Hoedt's header from the resulting corner, but Parolo timed his entrance perfectly to bundle in the rebound.
With Sparta more efficiently muzzled thereafter, Lazio might have won this first instalment, Candreva lifting a glorious shot from out on the right onto the crossbar as the hour-mark approached. Lukáš Mareček tested Marchetti with a low strike from distance as time ticked on, but the keeper fielded it well under pressure – a measure of Lazio's professionalism in circumstances where other sides might have buckled.
Sparta's confidence game
Sparta have not lost a UEFA Europa League match all season, and Zdeněk Ščasný's team came into this game on a run of nine straight wins in all competitions. How they handle the disappointment of failing to make it to ten may dictate the outcome of this tie. In full flow here, Sparta fizzed with energy but – vulnerable on the counter – it may take more than pluck and passion to get them to the quarter-finals.
Lazio's Roman resolve
In charge since 2014, Lazio coach Stefano Pioli has been coming in for criticism at home, his side well off the pace in the race for a European place next term. Lazio, though, looked a stylish outfit in Prague and have won all five European home fixtures in 2015/16, scoring three in each of their four UEFA Europa League successes in Rome. That form – and the steel they showed here – should stand them in good stead.