UEFA Champions League- Third Qualifying Round
We took control of our Third Qualifying Round tie against Swiss runners-up Basel in the home leg, albeit needing some sort of a positive result in the second leg to avoid being overturned on away goals. We had a heart-in-mouth moment early on, as Jan Boril gave away the ball to Aldo Kalulu just a few yards away from goal, who somehow contrived to shoot the ball straight at Ondrej Kolar in the ensuing one-on-one, which diverted onto the post and away. We would hit the woodwork twice ourselves through Stoch and Masopust in a first half that finished at 0-0. We had to wait until deep in the second half to find our chance, but we took it when it arrived on 79′. A perfect counterattack started from the back, as Boril took Kolar’s long throw in stride, driving forward 15 yards before playing a beautiful seam-ripping ball to Olayinka, who blasted the ball past Martin Hansen and into the right side of the net. We wasted little time in doubling our advantage on 85′, as Jaromir Zmrhal rose above his marker and powered in a header from Husbauer’s corner. Luca Zuffi would ensure Basel had the last word four minutes into stoppage time, however, as he found himself unmarked 20 yards away from goal and used that space to fire in Fabian Frei’s pass from the wing. A small lapse in concentration at the end of an otherwise good performance, that hopefully won’t hurt us too much in Switzerland.
I’m happy to say we took care of business in the away leg, putting three past Basel to advance as clear winners. We got the all-important first goal on 14′, as another Husbauer corner was thumped home at the back post by Milan Skoda, taking full advantage of some dreadful marking by Basel’s back line. Things were brought back into question on 22′, when Kalulu brought Basel level on the night, a brilliant volleyed finish making up for his big miss in the first leg. Still a goal to the good on aggregate, we refused to panic and continued to sit back and look for opportunities on the counter, which we were rewarded for on 51′. A gorgeous through ball from Husbauer was latched onto by Zmrhal, who played a gorgeous cross onto the head of Olayinka, who provided the- dare I say it -gorgeous finish to restore our two-goal aggregate advantage.
Is this the Czech version of ‘Jogo Bonito’?
We weren’t done quite yet, as Olayinka would tee up Masopust for a crazy volleyed finish from outside the area on 75′ to make it 5-2 on aggregate and effectively secure safe passage to the Playoff. A wonderful night in Basel, one that showed any future opponents that Masuc’s Slavia are not to be taken lightly.
We’ve drawn Ukrainian runners-up Dynamo Kyiv in the Playoff, in what should be a hard-fought and evenly-matched tie. We will go away first this time to the Olympiyskyi, before returning to Prague for a second leg which will hopefully see us secure a place in the Champions League proper for just the second time in this club’s history.
Jít! Jít! Jít!
UEFA Champions League- Playoff
An eventful first leg in Kiev, as we take the slimmest of advantages home to Prague by way of an away goal in a testy 1-1 draw. Dynamo took control of proceedings early in the match, but relinquished that control when Brazilian midfielder Tche Tche was sent off for two yellow cards in rapid succession on 29′ and 36′, allowing us to push forward by switching from our counter tactic to our press tactic. We reaped the rewards of this switch not long into the second half, as marauding wing back Jan Boril smashed home an absolute beauty from outside the box into the top-left corner on 50′ to give us a vital lead and away goal. We might have been too aggressive in pushing for a second goal, however, as holding midfielder Ondrej Kudela was also sent off for two yellow cards on 46′ and 66′, eliminating our man advantage… and eventually our goal advantage. The restoration of parity allowed Dynamo an avenue back into the game, and they got their equalizer on 81′ through Polish right back Tomasz Kedziora, who latched onto a deep cross from his opposite full back Vitaliy Mykolenko and beat Ondrej Kolar at his near post. It was disappointing to have let our opponents back into the game after having them on the back foot for so long, but we would have gladly taken the away draw before the match, and we have reason to be confident for the home leg at Eden.
Unfortunately, we slipped up at home, and missed a good opportunity to reach the Champions League proper at the first time of asking in what became our first loss of the season. Our defense started off poorly, conceding to Dynamo’s opening two efforts of the game. On just 8′, Slovenian winger Benjamin Verbic found dangerous Spanish striker Fran Sol unmarked with his cross, and Sol made no mistake from ten yards out. On 22′, Sol would flip the script, sending in a wicked deep cross for Verbic to smash home at the back post. Now needing three goals to progress, we got one of them back immediately through Ibrahim Traoré’s 20-yard drive, but the same player would effectively end our chances just nine minutes later, earning himself a straight red for a botched two-footed tackle. Though we didn’t completely wither after going a man down- we didn’t concede again and still managed to outshoot and outpossess Dynamo- it was simply too much to ask to get a further two goals, and the final whistle blew to confirm our participation in the Europa League rather than the Champions League in this first season.
UEFA Europa League- Group Stage Draw
We end up as the last team out of the hat, as the fourth seed in Group L. We’ll be facing Belgian giants RSC Anderlecht, Danish giants FC København, and German upstarts RB Leipzig, which is definitely a more difficult slate than I would have hoped for, but it’s not the worst of the groups we could have been drawn in either (I’m looking at you, Group F). The board expects us to progress from the group stage this season, which means I’ll need to be targeting positive results against Anderlecht and København, as I think Leipzig are too strong an opponent for us to be expecting wins off of at this early stage of the journey. I think we can just about get through, but it certainly won’t be easy, and I won’t be too disappointed with failing to progress, provided that we at least give a decent account of ourselves in all six fixtures. We’ll see what happens in due time.
We opened the month with a convincing victory over Baník Ostrava away from home. It was a dream day for both of our wingers, as Jaromir Zmrhal and Alexandru Baluta each bagged a brace and recorded an assist. Zmrhal started us off early on 10′, drilling a free kick into the top-left corner. Baluta would get our second just two minutes later, heading in from close range off of Zmrhal’s corner. Baluta was fortunate to get another on 26′, as Petr Sevcik’s deflected effort fell right to his feet to knock in at the back post. Baník had few chances in the match, but they did take one of them late in the game, hitting us on a counter that ended with an unmarked Martin Fillo blasting one past a helpless Premysl Kovar on the run. They wouldn’t have the last word, however, as Zmrhal got his second from Baluta’s brilliant low cross in stoppage time, capping an emphatic victory in Moravia-Silesia.
In between the two legs of the Basel tie, we took care of business against newly-promoted Opava at home. Things actually started quite poorly when Ibrahim Traoré missed a penalty on 4′, hitting it straight at Vilem Fendrich in Opava’s net. We wouldn’t let that rattle us, however, as we would get on the scoresheet later in the first half, Milan Skoda expertly thrashing home Jan Boril’s cross on the volley on 37′. We got our insurance goal on 56′ through a wonderful goal from Petr Sevcik, who used his first touch from Ondrej Kudela’s ball to wrong-foot the closest defender, then his second to fire the ball into the bottom-right corner from just outside the area. The rest of the match was rather uneventful, as we were happy to protect a two-goal lead and Opava struggled to create much after missing their only clear chance of the game in the first half. An easy win to continue our 100% record domestically.
Our last league fixture of the month came between the legs of the Dynamo tie, and I’m happy to say we countered our elimination from the Champions League with a 5-0 smashing of Slovácko at Eden. Our center backs took center stage in the first half, as youngster Alex Kral opened the scoring on 31′, taking an inadequately-cleared corner off his chest and ripping the ball into the back of the net on a half volley from 12 yards out, then his partner Simon Deli scored in the exact same manner and position on 45′. We got our third on 52′, as Miroslav Stoch cut inside from the left and blasted one past Michal Danek in the Slovácko net. The best goal of the day would come seven minutes later, as Stoch found Ibrahim Traoré in plenty of space outside the area, who then proceeded to laser one into the top-right corner from 20 yards out. We still weren’t satisfied, as we added our fifth on 79′, Stoch’s free kick finding Kral at the back post to head in from close range, capping a magnificent day for both players. Complete domination over a team who I thought might have given us a close game before the match.