On Wednesday night Czech football side Sparta Prague had one last chance at redemption in what has been a truly miserable autumn season: a win over 3rd place Swiss side Thun would not have gotten Sparta through to the next stage of the Champions League, but it would have at least guaranteed the team a place in the other major European tournament, the UEFA Cup. But, it was not to be. Sparta failed to raise their game, and came up short - again.
Halfway through the football calendar and Sparta have little to look forward to next spring: no Champions league was a foregone conclusion, but now, no UEFA Cup, either. On Wednesday Sparta played to a lacklustre draw against Switzerland's Thun, who humbled Sparta with a shock win 1:0 the last time they met. Could it have been different this time around? Not likely - although Sparta came out relatively stronger in the first half, the 2nd was well below par. The game then disintegrated with the team's captain Martin Petras being sent off, although last glimmer of hope came in the 81st minute, with Adam Petrous up close. But, he rang his shot off the crossbar. Afterwards captain Petras was understandably despondent about the game:
"It wasn't just this game: it was also out match against Thun last time. It's unfortunate. We needed to score and we didn't. They defended with almost ten men back and it wasn't possible to break through. We had a few chances but couldn't convert. It's just too bad. "
The team's coach, Stanislav Griga, was equally resigned:
"I think we played a pretty good first half: we had some chances and we managed to get Thun under pressure. But, we weren't able to capitalise. The 2nd half was worse: our strikers, especially Slepicka performing far below his usually level, really stopped playing. Physically, I don't think we were up to the task."
Prior to the game, the coach was quoted as saying the autumn season would still be bad even if Sparta had won. But, a UEFA spot would have been some consolation, and in the first half, for a while, it looked like Sparta might set the tone. Not to be. Now, the only thing left to return to is the home league, where Sparta - for years the most dominant team, have dropped to a lowly 11th place. Despite being the league's richest team, poor decisions this fall left their mark, a spat with the team's former coach driving out Karel Poborsky the league's only real star. Can Sparta come back? In the first division we'll have to see, but on the European stage it's curtains for now.
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