Illustration photo – Rematch of the 3rd preliminary round of the Champions League, AC Sparta Prague – FC Copenhagen, August 15, 2023, Prague. Sparta players after a lost match. Jakub Pešek is standing on the right.
Athens – The players of Sparta Prague will face Dinamo Zagreb in the final 4th preliminary round of the European League for participation in the group. The Croatian champions were knocked out in a dramatic 3rd preliminary round of the Champions League by AEK Athens and moved to the qualification of the lower competition. After the initial 1:2 defeat at home, the Zagreb team led 2:0 in Greece in the first minute of regulation and kept progress, but the opponent then equalized with two goals to make it 2:2.
The Spartans will start a double match with Dinamo at its stadium on Thursday at 20:00, and they will play the return match at home a week later on August 31 from 19:00 at Letná. The Czech champion advanced to the 4th preliminary round, similar to the Zagreb team after being eliminated in the Champions League qualifiers. The Praguers are assured of participation in at least the group of the European Conference League, where they will fall in the event of elimination from Dinamo.
The rematch in Greece was played in an unusual way on Saturday due to the fact that UEFA changed the order of the matches. The Athenians were originally supposed to host the opening match on August 8, but it was postponed after a home fan was stabbed before the match.
AEK went into the rematch in a favorable position, but lost the one-goal lead in the first half after Šutala's close-range shot. In the 65th minute, Ljubičič ran onto the crossbar and sent the guests into a two-goal lead.
Dinamo entered the setup with a progressive result, but in the second minute Araujo equalized after a corner kick. When it seemed that the rematch would go to extra time, the Norwegian referee Eskas ordered a penalty for the home team for a hand in the goal. Although García hit goalkeeper Livakovič from the penalty kick, Vida's header from the crossbar in the 10th minute decided the progress of the home team. The Athenians turned the unfavorable situation even in the opening match, in which they also scored in the end.
Dinamo dominated the Croatian league six times in a row. Sparta faced him in summer training on July 7 during a training camp abroad, where they drew 1:1 with him. Prague's goal was scored in the second minute by winger Jakub Pešek.
Letenští have already played with the Zagreb team in UEFA competitions, in 2008 they were eliminated in the then UEFA Cup after an away goalless draw and a 3:3 home draw. However, the rule about the higher number of goals scored away from home no longer applies. In February 2019, Plzeň was not enough for Dinamo in the European League after a 2:1 win at home and a 0:3 away loss.