Belaid scores game-winner for Slavia in team's first-ever Champions League match

Tijani Belaid and Zdenek Senkerik, photo: CTK

"The Dream Continues" is how the Czech daily Sport titled Wednesday night's triumph, referring to football side Slavia's win in the team's first ever Champions League match. Slavia downed Steaua Bucharest 2:1 in the group stage game held at Prague's Evzen Rosicky stadium, earning their first three points.

Zdenek Senkerik, photo: CTK
Recently Slavia Prague made club history by qualifying - for the first time ever - for the Champions League. On Wednesday, the team's winning streak continued: Slavia faced Steaua Bucharest before a capacity crowd in Prague. Despite a poorer first half, the side nevertheless scored early: in the 13th minute when Zdenek Senkerik picked up a rebound on a shot by team captain Vlcek. He sent a low ball from a distance of five metres, finding the back of the net. After the game, not surprisingly, he called the goal "the most important of his life".

"Half a year ago I was still playing in Turkey and if somebody had told me that half a year later I'd be playing in Slavia's first-ever Champions League match and that I'd score a goal, I probably would have laughed. I took a new pair of cleats for tonight's match so I'm glad that I was able to 'christen' them this way."

Tijani Belaid and Zdenek Senkerik, photo: CTK
Until now, only one player at Slavia has experienced similar success in Champions League action: Vladimir Smicer, sidelined on Wednesday, who actually won the prestige with Liverpool. It was thought that Smicer's presence would be more sorely missed in Wednesday's match.

Photo: CTK
Still, Slavia did appear rough at the edges during the first half despite their lead and Bucharest soon turned up the pressure. By half-time the side had squared the match on a goal by Dorin Goian. But in the second, Slavia got back in the drivers seat: in the 63rd minute the ball went from Vlcek to French-born Tijani Belaid - a twenty-year old talent on loan from FC Milan - who left goalkeeper Zapata no chance, by heading the ball into the net. 2:1 was the score and that was how it remained until the final whistle.

Wednesday was an historic win but obviously the team faces even tougher challenges next. In Group H that means facing group favourites Sevilla - who lost last night - and Arsenal. The team's coach has in fact admitted that his side would be a satisfied even with an overall third-place finish in difficult Group H. Such a result would not see Slavia in the later stages of the Champions League, but would give them a consolation slot in the UEFA Cup.