After victory over Ajax, Slavia makes it to the Champions League

Stanislav Vlcek, photo: CTK

On Wednesday night, Slavia Prague, one of the oldest and most successful Czech football clubs, beat Ajax Amsterdam 2:1 in the second leg of the third - and final - qualification round of the Champions League and advanced to the group stage of the competition, for the first time in history.

Vladimir Smicer,  photo: CTK
For Slavia Prague, victory over Ajax Amsterdam meant more than just defeating the most successful Dutch team of all time. Slavia will take part in the prestigious Champions League for the first time ever, after the Prague club failed in five previous attempts.

The opening passages of Wednesday's game were promising. Slavia was not primarily focused on defending the one-goal advantage from the first match a fortnight earlier and gradually built up some good opportunities. Then, in the 13th minute, the crowd froze - the star Vladimir Smicer who signed up with his old team this year after 11 seasons abroad - had to leave the pitch due to a muscle injury. Being one of the two Czech footballers ever to win the Champions League and by far the most experienced of the red-and-whites, this might have proved crucial. But it was Slavia that scored the opening goal. Only ten minutes later, however, Ajax was back in the game with an equalizer. Here is what Vladimir Smicer had to say.

Photo: CTK
"I think it was a really difficult game for us, we knew that we were 1:0 up, but we really wanted to score goals. We scored the first goal, but then Ajax came back and they were very dangerous."

And they were very dangerous indeed. Some 20 minutes into the second half, Slavia's defence slowly began to crumble under the continuous waves of attacks by the visiting team. If it were not for Martin Vaniak in Slavia's goal, it would have been the Dutch celebrating their advance.

Photo: CTK
The Champions League applies the rule of away goals having more value than goals scored at home; this made the closing passages of the game extremely nerve-wrecking for the audience. Any goal achieved by Ajax would have sent the Dutch champions into the group stage of the Champions League instead of Slavia. But constant pressure by Ajax offered Slavia at least some opportunities for counter-attacks. In one of them, with some five more minutes to go, Michael Tavares passed the ball quickly to Stanislav Vlcek and the captain scored the decisive goal. Vladimir Smicer again.

Stanislav Vlcek,  photo: CTK
"We were lucky at the end of the second half, out goalkeeper had two great saves, and then at the end we scored because they opened up their defence. We are very happy."

This year, Slavia Prague finally made it to the Champions League. A club without its own stadium, almost always second to the city rival Sparta, will see its budget double with the revenues from the Champions League. For Slavia, this might be the beginning of a new era.