Sunday, 21 December 2014

Prague’s football clubs on the front foot

By Mark Smith | Prague Daily Monitor |
11 March 2014

They say good things come in threes and that appears to be the case for Sparta, Dukla and Slavia Praha, as all three sets of supporters have cause for optimism. Sparta are on the verge of the title, Dukla have their sights on European football while Slavia look to build a new identity with a Dutch coach at the helm.

Unfortunately, at the other end of the spectrum, Bohemians 1905 fans have little to cheer as their side props up the table and, unless the appointment of Luděk Klusáček can revive their season; they look set for a swift return to the second tier.

But this shouldn’t detract from the fact that the Gambrinus Liga title looks set to return to the Czech capital for the first time since 2009/10 as the feel good factor has enveloped the city once again.

It’s been a long four years for Sparta Praha who has played the part of bridesmaid to Viktoria Plzeň and Slovan Liberec over the last few seasons. But their wait for the Gambrinus Liga trophy is almost over after a 1-0 victory over Viktoria Plzeň at Letná on Sunday evening, giving the Spartans an eight-point lead.

Sparta have been imperious so far this season with a 100% home record and an overall record of P19 W16 D3 L0. Incidentally, they went the whole season undefeated last time they won the league and a repeat looks on the cards.
Everything has fallen into place for Sparta this term. Their rivals have been distracted with European competition and changes in management, while their own squad looks wonderfully balanced and motivated.

The arrival of Costa Nhamoinesu at left back has been a revelation, the 28 year-old left back has been peerless in the Gambrinus Liga, while his work rate is staggering. It’s almost as if he has the time and energy to make a goal saving tackle, jump over the advertising hoardings to serve a beer and klobása and still make it back to the pitch to setup yet another Sparta goal.

A short tram ride away, at the Juliska stadium, Dukla Praha are quietly going about their business, plotting a route into the top three and a place in European competition next year.

It’s a remarkable position the club find themselves in after returning to the Czech top division just 18 months ago. Despite losing back-to-back games recently they remain in the mix for third place as they sit just four points behind Teplice, who occupy the final Europa League position.

Stability and consistency has been the key to the success at the Juliska. They finished in sixth position last season, winning more games than they lost and with a positive goal difference, something that cannot be said of the more illustrious Slavia Praha.

Finishing in third place this season is a big ask for a club with the resources and fan base of Dukla but it’s not out of the question. And should they make it to the Europa League qualifiers, then their fans will dare to dream of meeting the likes of Manchester United, Inter Milan or Villareal in the group stages.

Meanwhile, Slavia Praha finally appear to be thinking outside of the box after appointing 47 year-old Dutch coach Alex Pastoor as their new boss last week.

The former NEC and Excelsior coach has a reputation of playing attractive and expansive football with an emphasis on bringing through the youth players, something that the club has failed to achieve with any distinction over the last three to four seasons.

It has been a tale of lowly league positions, embarrassing defeats and fan discontent at Slavia. But the return of Tomas Necid, on loan from CSKA Moscow, and the appointment of Pastoor, shows there is some light at the end of the tunnel.

Although Pastoor’s first game in charge ended in a harsh 1-0 defeat to Teplice, after playing 40 minutes with just 10 men, he will be able to take more positives than negatives from the performance.

The club remains just three points clear of the drop zone but the Slavia fans will be looking towards Pastoor and his assistant, Slavia legend Karol Kisel, to re-invigorate the squad and rebuild Slavia’s identity on and off the pitch.

Upcoming Fixtures in Prague:

Friday 14th March
Slavia v Znojmo

Sunday 16th March
Bohemians 1905 v Slovan Liberec

Saturday 22nd March
Dukla v Příbram

Sunday 23rd March
Slavia v Jihlava

Sat 29th March
Sparta v Znojmo