Football’s Viktoria Plzeň reach group stage of Champions League

Foto: ČTK

Czech football club Viktoria Plzeň have sensationally reached the Champions League group stage for the first time. On Wednesday, the team defeated FC Copenhagen 2:1 at Prague’s Eden stadium in their second-leg match. Overall they won 5:2 on aggregate.

Viktoria Plzeň - FC Copenhagen, photo: CTK
I spoke to Karel Haring, a football specialist and journalist who writes for Deník Sport, asking him how he viewed the team’s success.

“It’s something really incredible in the recent history of Czech football. Four or five years ago Plzeň advanced from the 2nd division to the top flight. The quick progress they made over the last three years is remarkable.”

What are elements that you would say are crucial to the way the team has performed and come together?

“I think that there are two key elements: one was the arrival of coach Pavel Vrba. When he arrived in October 2008 Plzeň I think that he ‘inherited’ quite a decent squad with many former players from Sparta that the Prague club no longer wanted. And he quickly taught them to play a more attacking style, the attractive football they play now, with precise passes and so on.

“The second was the arrival of club owner Tomáš Paclík. He bought the club last summer at a time when Plzeň had major financial problems because the former owner disappeared and to date has not been found. Paclík paid off most of the club’s debt, approximately 80 million crowns (the equivalent of around three million euros). This allowed the team to focus only on football and that paid off.”

Viktoria Plzeň - FC Copenhagen, photo: CTK
Plzeň won both games against Copenhagen (coming back from 1:0 on Wednesday night) and won by a healthy margin on aggregate. Is this a good sign moving forward?

“I’d say it is a very good sign and not just both games against Copenhagen: they won all six games in the qualifiers and scored 18 goals, so overall an average of three goals per game. So that’s very positive.”

Who will be some of the players to watch in the competition ahead?

“Pavel Horváth will be one: it will be interesting to see how he does. At 36, he’s not a ‘typical’ competitor in the Champions League and, well it’s cruel to say, but he’s a bit overweight. On the other hand, he is a very clever player and he knows how to pass the ball very quickly. One very interesting player is midfielder Petr Jiráček, who has been called up for the first time for the national squad in Euro 2012 qualifying next month in Scotland. His progress has been amazing.”

In the past, Czech clubs Sparta and Slavia competed in the Champions League but are now absent; how important is it for a team, both in terms of finances and prestige, to advance in the Champions League?

Viktoria Plzeň - FC Copenhagen, photo: CTK
“It’s hugely important for both funds and prestige. If you look at Sparta they were last in it I think five years ago and they have struggled since. They miss the money and the prestige. What will be interesting to observe will be how Plzeň handles the money, which will be three times the yearly budget they have now. When I spoke to the owner he admitted that they might make a bigger acquisition or two but would like to keep the profile of the team as it is now.”