"I don't think anybody was expecting this," David Bičík told UEFA.com with the goalkeeper and coach Zdeněk Ščasný hoping Sparta's youngsters can win the day against Villarreal.
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A day after turning 35, David Bičík was giving away gifts; three minutes into Sparta Praha's UEFA Europa League quarter-final opener against Villarreal, the goalkeeper was caught dawdling on the ball, his attempted clearance flying into the net off the outstretched boot of Cédric Bakambu.
It might have been the beginning of the end for Sparta, but – just as he did in Sparta's 3-0 win at Lazio in the round of 16 – Bičík put in a heroic performance to atone for his earlier error. Sparta managed to score completely against the odds, and though Bakambu restored Villarreal's advantage on the night, a 2-1 deficit looks eminently retrievable for the Czech club, who have already far exceeded expectations.
If someone told me at the start of the season that we would get this far, I would probably have told them they were an idiot," he told UEFA.com. "I don't think anybody was expecting this, neither the players, nor the management or the fans. I've won the title with Sparta, I won the title in Slovakia too with Slovan Bratislava, but getting so far in the Europa League is a big success for me. I think for all of us it's our biggest European success."
Much of the credit for that achievement goes to coach Zdeněk Ščasný, the 58-year-old former Sparta midfielder who has stitched together this team of young talents and seasoned professionals. "He's a great personality," Bičík said. "He's very emotional on the bench, during training and during the matches, but it inspires us, because we can see he is behind us from the first minute to the last. He is a role model for us, and we try to repay him on the pitch."
Sparta certainly play excitable football – they are a side designed to attack – and the coach hopes this campaign will have a positive outcome for his emerging stars, whether or not they make it to a European semi-final.
"We have a few experienced players in the team, and they keep the young players under control in training," he said. "The young generation have great ambition to achieve something, not only [with Sparta], but to get into the national team, play in Europe and earn a move abroad."
Plenty of Sparta players will be in the proverbial shop window when their quarter-final concludes in Prague, but can they get the better of Villarreal? They can try. "Our opponents are very strong, they are favourites, but we want to prepare ourselves as best we can," Ščasný said. "We want to put in our best performance. We want to do it for our fans. They have been brilliant in all our matches and we want to thank them, because we've progressed so far with their help."