Slavia Prague look set for another Champions League adventure in 2020/21 after comfortably topping the regular-season Fortuna Liga table. In negotiating the playoff round thereafter, Slavia would embark on a second group stage odyssey in as many years.
However, reality soon bites, with Slavia always finding themselves in one of the lower ‘pots’ for the group stage draw. Given that, they are invariably destined to face at least one of Europe’s top teams – a league champion at the very least, or even the Europa League winners or the reigning Champions League holders themselves.
With the latter two titles potentially being held by English clubs ahead of the 2020/21 group stage draw, Slavia fans with longer memories may feel inclined to reminisce about past European clashes with Premier League opponents. Here are our top five:
Slavia 2-1 Leeds – UEFA Cup Quarter Finals (2000)
This remains Slavia’s most recent competitive win over an English club to date. By the end of the 1990s Leeds had grown into serious contenders for the Premier League, building on a fourth-place finish in 1998/99. However, this was the second leg of the UEFA Cup quarter finals, and Slavia were already as good as out, having lost 3-0 at Elland Road in the first leg.
Despite this, Slavia put up an admirable fight, especially after going 1-0 down just two minutes into the second half. Harry Kewell was Leeds’ goalscorer, drilling low past future Premier League goalkeeper Radek Cerny. Ivo Ulich hit a double to salvage some pride, and add some respectability to the aggregate scoreline.
Slavia 0-0 Arsenal – Champions League group stage (2007)
Though it is difficult to identify a goalless draw as a ‘classic’, it was certainly a good result against the three-time Premier League winners. Today, Premier League matchday betting prices frequently put Arsenal as outsiders against top rivals such as Liverpool and Manchester City. Back in 2007, however, they were far stronger, and still living off the residual effect of legends such as Bergkamp, Vieira and Henry.
Slavia’s best chances fell to Mickael Tavares, who missed a header, and Zdenek Senkerik, who forced Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia to save with his fingertips. Senkerik was again denied by Almunia in the dying minutes. Ultimately, it was a much-deserved result for Slavia, who were easily the superior side on the night.
Slavia 2-3 Tottenham (on aggregate) – UEFA Cup round of 32 (2008)
Slavia’s wastefulness in front of the Arsenal goal was a major reason for them crashing out of the Champions League, but Slavia found the safety net of the UEFA Cup knockouts after finishing third in their 2007/08 Champions League group.
Slavia 1-2 Tottenham
The Červenobílí were unable to utilize home advantage, and found themselves 2-0 down after 30 minutes. Dimitar Berbatov scored after just four minutes with a composed shot from 18 yards out and, after more pressure, Jermaine Jenas then found the clinical finisher Robbie Keane on the edge of the area for the second goal.
Martin Vaniak pulled off two great saves against Berbatov, before Slavia rediscovered their momentum in the second half. In the 69th minute, Cerny made a huge mistake, dropping the ball at David Strihavka’s feet after fumbling a cross. Strihavka scored, and set up a grandstand finish in which Erich Brabec very nearly equalized.
Tottenham 1-1 Slavia
Just a week later, Tottenham finished the job, and elongated Slavia’s wait for a win in England. Slavia did, however, get a first-ever competitive goal on English soil, and never looked outclassed. Once again, Spurs took an early lead through Jamie O’Hara, who saw his shot deflect off Martin Latka to leave Michal Vorel stranded.
The second half saw Slavia get the better of Spurs, with Daniel Pudil crossing low for Matej Krajcik to smash home an equalizer. Slavia could well have taken the tie to extra time, with Erich Brabec finding Frantisek Drizdal unmarked, but Drizdal could only head the ball straight at Spurs goalkeeper Paul Robinson. It was not to be, and Slavia once more crashed out of European competition to Premier League opposition.
Chelsea 4-3 Slavia – Europa League Quarter Finals (2019)
This match had everything, playing out in front of a passionate crowd at Stamford Bridge – a former proving ground for Czech national hero Petr Čech, who was to retire at the end of that season. Only a visual recollection can express just how exciting this game was:
Chelsea went on to lift the Europa League in May 2019, compensating for what had been a very disappointing 2018/19 campaign under Maurizio Sarri.