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Valdas Ivanauskas <-auth Barry Anderson auth-> Peter Sippel
20 of 052 ----- E A

Czech revivalists out to finish job


WHEN Miroslav Matusovic executed Sparta Prague's second goal at Murrayfield a fortnight ago, it was a genuine upset. Hearts were not expected to capitulate so easily in the UEFA Cup having been ushered into the competition from the qualifying rounds of the Champions League.

Yet the goal initiated a reviving act that has since been evident both in Edinburgh and the Czech Republic. Whilst Hearts have gone three matches without defeat between the first and second legs of the UEFA Cup first round, Sparta have allowed new coach Michal Bilek to bask in the honeymoon of his early tenure at the club he served so commendably as a player in the 1990s.

Bilek took over from former head coach Stanislav Griga, winning his first match in charge 2-0 against Tescoma Zlin in the league only days before Sparta travelled to Scotland to usurp Hearts. A 1-1 draw away at FK Teplice upon their return was followed by the 6-0 Czech Cup demolition of Dosta Bystrc last Thursday and a 3-0 victory at home to Ceske Budejovice last weekend.

Yet the Sparta squad are hungry for more. The dominant poise that has seen them recognised for decades as the Czech Republic's most celebrated side appears to have made a timely return, although the players are not sated simply by regaining form after recording just two victories from their opening five league games under Griga.

Captain Tomas Sivok admits that he and his colleagues have been injected with fresh appetite by Bilek, but refuses to contemplate a plan of consolidation against Hearts just because his team have afforded themselves a two-goal advantage. "We would like to score promptly, because if we score, the match will be decided," said the midfielder.

"We know that we played very well in Edinburgh. We must repeat that.

"We aren't overly confident because we have not achieved anything yet. Yes, we are the favourites for tomorrow after first match, but it is only half-time in the tie. Now, we are waiting for second half.

"We haven't lost since Michal Bilek came to the club. The atmosphere is good within our team now and we believe in Bilek. He is a good coach.

"The UEFA Cup is an important tournament for us and making the group stages would represent success for us and accomplishment of our objectives."

Sivok is aware that the Hearts squad which touched down at Prague's Ruzyne International Airport this afternoon has, like Sparta, taken on an entirely different complexion to the one that took the field at Murrayfield merely two weeks back.

In particular, the lethal counter-attacking abilities demonstrated by Roman Bednar, Mauricio Pinilla and others in Aberdeen on Sunday may prove to be particularly useful in the Toyota Arena.

From his midfield holding role, or, as Hearts fans may prefer to tag it, the Julien Brellier position, Sivok's primary task is to nullify the opposition's attacking threat before it reaches Sparta's defensive line.

He turned 23 the day after Sparta's victory in Edinburgh, a notably young age for the captain of one of Europe's most reputable clubs. But the player is expecting his youthful endurance and stamina to be stringently examined tomorrow evening.

"I'm expecting Hearts to be more aggressive," said the Czech. "They must score, they must play football. We must have a good defensive line and wait for our chance.

"Hearts have to score twice and therefore they will play a very offensive match against us this time. They will have to. I expect the game to be good entertainment for football fans and I think that Hearts will definitely be better than the first match."

Michal Pospisil, although back in training after injury, has not attained sufficient match fitness in time to feature at the ground where he used to excel in the maroon of Sparta. The Czech striker has travelled to his homeland with his Tynecastle colleagues but will now endure the agony of watching from the stand for the second time after the same injury kept him out of the first leg. In his absence, the principle striking responsibilities will once more fall on the shoulders of Bednar and Chilean star Pinilla - a pair who seem to be cultivating quite a productive attacking partnership.

"I know Roman and he is a very good striker," continued Sivok. "He is very dangerous in the final third of the pitch and is capable of doing us damage.

"I spoke with Michal on Monday and he told me that he will not play in Prague. That is a shame for Hearts but one player is not going to decide this match." Valdas Ivanauskas, the Hearts head coach, is of similar opinion. The Lithuanian was contented by the collective desire and work ethic shown by his players at the weekend.

"To score three goals away from home is always good," he in reference to the 3-1 win over Aberdeen. "Now we need the same result in Prague."

So, two teams in a rich vein of form, but one with a sizeable advantage.

"We know of the Hearts results recently and they are a warning for us," said Sivok. "We have also played three matches and didn't lose any of them, so both sides are playing well."

Sivok may not have realised it two weeks ago, but the goals by Daniel Kolar and Matusovic in Scotland could transpire to be pivotal to his club's previously ailing season.

However, not finishing the job properly tomorrow night is likely to have a debilitating affect on Sparta that would be extremely difficult to recover from.

Taken from the Scotsman

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