It’s been a great season for many of the domestic leagues in Europe, as their title races have gone right to the wire. Today we are going to focus on the race in the Czech republic where Slavia Prague are on the verge of winning their first league title since 1996 after a 3-1 win at Sigma Olomouc. Macedonian striker Goce Toleski and Marek Jarolim fired Slavia into a 2-0 first-half lead and Martin Abraham sealed their win after Jakub Heidenreich had pulled one back. With one match left, Slavia now top the standings with 59 points while defending champions Sparta have 57 after a disappointing 2-1 home defeat at the hands of third-placed Banik Ostrava.
Adding to the drama is that Sparta Praha have replaced coach Michal Bílek even though he announced his intention to quit at season’s end following the loss on Saturday. “Immediately after the game I announced to the club chief Mr. Kretinsky and players in the dressing room that I will quit at the end of the season,” Bilek said in a news conference following the game. Daniel Kretinsky is chairman of the Prague club. Sparta’s club president Jozef Chovanec will take charge of the team for their final match.
The 43-year-old Bílek had been in charge since September 2006 and won a domestic double last season. The 48-year-old Chovanec won several Czech titles with Sparta as a player and one as a coach in 1997. He managed the Czech Republic from 1998 to 2001 and then spent short spells at FC Marila Príbram and Russian side FC Kuban Krasnodar before taking on the club president role with Sparta.
Further adding to the drama around the final league matches of the season, Sparta must play Liberec in the Czech Cup final on Tuesday before meeting them again in the league on Saturday. However, the outcome of that game will be of little consequence if Slavia win their final game of the season at home against FK Jablonec 97.
One quick sidenote, Slavia recently opened their new stadium, the Stadion Eden, with a friendly against Oxford University Association Football Club. Now at first, this might seem like a strange pairing but Slavia’s relationship with the English club goes back to 1899, when Slavia hosted the Blues as the first English football club to travel to Prague. The players were met at the train station by Slavia delegates and taken straight to the pitch, where they proceeded to secure a 3-0 victory before being entertained in the most expensive hotel in the city.
A few days later, the Blues played Deutscher Club, with whom Slavia had such a heated rivalry that there had been no match between the teams for numerous years. Oxford’s convincing 9-0 victory was thus well received by the Slavia contingent it gave them the bragging rights within the city having secured the better result against the common opponent.
Above is a shot from a webcam overlooking the stadium. There are also a couple of YouTube videos (one of the opening ceremony and one of construction)of the opening ceremonies, as well as a Radio Prague article on the match and of course a Wikipedia article on the stadium itself.
The new stadium was built on the site of a dilapidated ground in the south of Prague which the club had to leave in 2000 after around half a century. They had first moved to the Eden site in the early 1950s when they were forced to leave their stadium at Letná because of a project to build a massive statue of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Stadion Eden has a capacity of about 21,000 people and it is the most modern football stadium in the Czech Republic.
Slavia’s lineup for the opening of the stadium included some well-known former players like Lukas Jarolim and Patrik Berger, who now play for Siena and Aston Villa respectively. With a stacked lineup that also included one of my favourite players — former Liverpool midfielder Vladimir Smicer (currently back at Slavia as a player), as well as Ivo Knoflí?ek and former Fiorentina, Metz and Chicago Fire standout Luboš Kubík, Slavia cruised to a 5-0 win over the Oxford lads.