FC Slovan Liberec advanced to the last eight of the UEFA Cup after beating Olympique Lyonnais.
FC Slovan Liberec 4-1 Olympique Lyonnais (Agg: 5-2)
Three goals in the last 15 minutes at the Letná stadium, the home of rivals AC Sparta Praha, meant that the leading French club went the same way as SK Slovan Bratislava, RC Celta da Vigo and RCD Mallorca before them in this competition, losing 5-2 on aggregate. Next up for the Czech side are BV Borussia Dortmund and who is to say that the Germans will not suffer the same fate as all the rest.
Finely balanced game
When the tie had to be switched to Sparta's ground, it was widely thought that this finely balanced game had been tipped in the French club's favour, but they never really looked like taking advantage, with too many of their players below par on the day. The Sparta pitch, though, was not completely foreign to Slovan, who, in fact, had won there previously this season.
Stoops to conquer
Nevertheless, for 75 minutes it was anyone's tie. A goal by Lyon's Patrick Müller after 17 minutes had wiped out the advantage gained by Slovan in their very first attack, when Jan Nezmar scored with only seconds gone. But cometh the hour and a quarter, cometh the man and Jirí Štajner, easily the most influential player over the two legs, stooped to conquer with a glancing header to a driven free-kick from Václav Koulešek.
Had it not been for an unfortunate sequence of events involving Grégory Coupet, the Lyon goalkeeper, and his fellow defender Jéremié Bréchet seven minutes later, Lyon might have found a way back into this tie. Again Stajner, who won his first cap for the Czech Republic early this month, was heavily involved, powering in a cross which was just out of Coupet's reach. The ball, however, rebounded off the chest of Bréchet and then struck the back of Coupet before falling obligingly into the path of Nezmar, who for the second time in the game was afforded an easy finish. It was his fifth goal in the competition.
A fourth goal two minutes later was more than even Slovan deserved, but credit them for hammering home their advantage. This time it was the good work of Nezmar which paid off as he made a run to the by-line before pulling the ball back for substitute Robert Neumann to finish comfortably.
Booked for diving
While Neumann's substitution may have been an inspired one, Lyon's critics may feel the double substitution which the visitors made just minutes before Stajner struck was less beneficial. In fairness to the Lyon head coach, Jacques Santini, midfielder Eric Carrière, whom he took off, was nothing like as effective as he had been in the first game while Christophe Delmotte had run himself into the ground. Just to add to Carrière's misery, he was also booked for diving.
Sidney Govou, who scored the last-minute equaliser in the first leg, rarely got a chance to show his pace while Sonny Anderson was completely anonymous. Lyon possibly missed the input of Juninho Pernambucano, who contracted gastro-enteritis after last week's game at Sochaux and was given a place on the bench, although he eventually came on to little effect for Carrière.
"We were a little disappointed that we could not play at our home stadium, where there is a better contact with the crowd," said Ladislav Skorpil, the Slovan head coach. "But the atmosphere here was wonderful today. Our players threw themselves at everything in defence and were clever in attack. Who has ever scored four goals against Lyon?"
Bring on Borussia
Stajner, Slovan's man of the tie, owed his team's success to their refusal to change their style. "Now we are looking forward to Dortmund, Jan Koller and Tomás Rosicky," he said. Whether the Germans are looking forward to them is another matter.