The leading Czech football club Sparta Prague played their last group game in the prestigious Champions League on Wednesday night. With only one point from their previous five games, Sparta had already finished last in Group D, and were essentially playing for pride when they faced France's Olympique Lyon. But far from making the most of their last chance this season to shine on the European stage, Sparta suffered a humiliating 5:0 defeat. It was the culmination of their worst ever Champions League campaign.
Despite the fact Lyon fielded a team which did not feature many of their regular first choice players, Frantisek Straka's Sparta side gave a very poor account of themselves at the Stade Municipal de Gerland. The Czech league leaders created precious few chances during the game and let themselves down terribly at the back.
The normally excellent goalkeeper Jaromir Blazek made two huge blunders, twice losing control of a ball which appeared to be safely in his hands, allowing the opposition to pounce and score. That said, the 5:0 score line could have been even worse if Blazek had not made a few quality saves. The Czech international second choice keeper, who is 32 in a few weeks' time is expected to leave Sparta for an overseas club during the New Year transfer window.
Wednesday's 5:0 drubbing was Sparta's worst Champions League result since they lost away to Barcelona by the same margin in 1999, and was the culmination of their poorest ever campaign in the competition - in six games they took only one point, that from a 0:0 home game against Manchester United.
Sparta's best Champions League outings were in 1999-2000 and 2001-2002, when they reached the (now discontinued) second group stage.
Reaching the group stage of the competition is a top priority for Sparta every season. There is an element of prestige to playing some of the biggest clubs in Europe, but the club's main concern is financial. Qualification alone guarantees them something like 100 million crowns (over 3 million euros), with more money for every win or draw, and a lot more if they advance from the group.
By contrast, failure to reach the Champions League - as in the 2002-2003 season, when they lost to Belgium's Genk in the last qualifying round - hits Sparta Prague's finances hard. Because of the complicated 'coefficient' system (depending on how a country's clubs fare in European competition), they will automatically qualify next season if they can hang on to their nine-point lead and win the Czech league for the ninth time in 11 seasons.
But the following year the Czech champions will have to go through the
qualifying process to reach the world's biggest club competition once
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