Football's First Division kicked off its spring schedule on Saturday with two key teams in soccer action: current league leaders Ostrava Banik - who dominated in the autumn, and second-place Sparta Prague, trailing by 7 points. Weekend play saw no change in the gap separating the two top teams - but the matches themselves were dramatic nonetheless. On Saturday Sparta was only just able to edge home-side Opava in a high-scoring thriller that finished 4-3. And who knows how things would have gone for the Prague side if it hadn't been a humdinger of a game for Jiri Stajner, on loan from Hannover in the German Bundesliga. The talented midfielder was one of the keys in Sparta's victory - instrumental in setting up 3 goals and even scoring one himself. The game-winner came from maverick Karel Poborsky at 85 minutes, dealing a death-blow to a feisty Opava side that had gone for the jugular from the opening minutes of the game.
By winning Sparta had of course hoped to cut into Ostrava Banik's lead at the top of the First Division but it was not to be. The other major weekend match saw Banik close-out 6th place Liberec 2-0 on two beautiful goals from Marek Heinz. The first half, though was nothing to cheer about: for some time it appeared Banik would be lucky to return home with a point, slow behind the ball and lacklustre on the field. Their luck changed in the second half, though, when Ostrava began playing fewer long balls and concentrated on a combination game, creating opportunities in the penalty area. Heinz's first goal came in the 61st minute, the second in the 77th. He remains the league's top scorer this season and his team Ostrava Banik remains the one to chase.
Other results in the 17th round of the First Division include Synot tying Brno 0-0, Slavia downing Blsany 2-0, Zizkov-Pilsen ending in a scoreless tie, and Ceske Budejovice gaining a solid win over Zlin 3-0.
Weekend ice hockey saw Pilsen down Vitkovice 4-2, to keep their hopes for an 8th spot in this year's Czech hockey play-offs alive. Currently Pilsen are in the 10th spot just behind Karlovy Vary. Vitkovice began the weekend game with a jump, taking an early 1-0 lead. But, weak defence left gaps for Pilsen to turn the game around before the period was out. The game continued in Pilsen's favour with the power-play turning on for two goals. Vitkovice tried to bite back and eventually did get one back in the third, but Pilsen goalie Roman Malek was solid between the posts, and never looked like letting this one go. Vitkovice remain in 7th place.
Meanwhile, Sunday in North America's NHL saw Czech centre Bobby Holik step onto the ice for his 1,000th NHL game - no mean accomplishment. Holik's Rangers, without newly-acquired Jaromir Jagr who is out with a groin injury, faced Philadelphia and would have liked to have secured an especially important win as the playoffs approach. The hard-luck Rangers are looking for an important play-off berth and are currently in 11th spot. However, it was not to be: not even Bobby Holik could help prevent a 6-2 blow-out. Speaking of reasons to celebrate: in helping his team to victory on Sunday Philadelphia's goaltender Sean Burke secured his 300th career win - just the 20th goalie to due so. So he, and not Bobby Holik, stole the night.
Despite recent world cup wins and a phenomenal return to form Czech cross-country skier Katerina Neumannova pulled out of a world cup ski-athlon race in Oberstdorf, Germany, over the weekend after just several minutes on the snow. Apparently Ms Neumannova's trainer opted for the wrong skis for the day's snow conditions - which left the racer visibly stranded in the opening seconds. Ms Neumannova complained afterwards it was impossible to get up even the most basic of hills.
Czech experts and journalists voted Jiri Welsch, the only Czech in the NBA - Top Czech male basketball player this year. Welsch, who plays for the Boston Celtics, got 132 votes to top Jiri Zidek by a wide margin; Zidek plays for Nymburk in the Czech Republic. Hana Machova, meanwhile, had a tougher time securing the women's crown, edging Lucie Blahuskova by just four points. The women's national basketball side secured no small triumph when they won silver at the European Championships in Greece. Fans of Czech basketball will also be interested to know that the Czech Basketball Association is planning on founding its own Hall of Fame, though the location has not yet been decided.
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