Senkerik scores tying goal to send Slavia into UEFA Cup

Zdenek Senkerik, right, is challenged by Steaua Bucharest's Mihai Nesu, left, photo: CTK

Tuesday evening saw Champions League action in the Romanian capital, with football’s Steaua Bucharest hosting Czech club Slavia Prague. The Czech side needed to eke out a win or at least a tie in order to keep its hopes alive – if not for the knockout stages of the Champions League – than at least for the next best thing: a place in the UEFA CUP.

Zdenek Senkerik,  right,  is challenged by Steaua Bucharest's Mihai Nesu,  left,  photo: CTK
The last time Slavia Prague and Steaua Bucharest met in Champions League action, Slavia came away the victors, a 2:1 win. But by Tuesday the team had settled into 3rd place in Group H, behind Sevilla and Arsenal, so few perhaps believed Slavia might still keep alive hopes for the knockout stages of the Champions League. Ultimately sceptics were proven right: Sevilla’s success at home against Arsenal made sure any unrealistic hopes were dashed. But Slavia did have a chance to salvage a place in the UEFA CUP: all the team needed was a single point.

As it was, Slavia did not get off to a good start, falling behind early on a goal by Steaua’s Badea, who drilled a ball past Vaniak (1:0). The Romanian side then kept up the pressure and should have gone up 2:0 (Badea again). But up close he shot straight at the keeper, who deflected the ball.

Martin Vaniak,  photo: CTK
The second half then saw a much closer match, especially in the final fifteen minutes. Both keepers saw action, but ultimately the Romanian side couldn’t hang on to the lead. Twelve minutes from time, Slavia’s Zdenek Senkerik headed the ball on a strong cross from Tavares (1:1) – Salvia was in the driver’s seat. That was how it stayed until the final whistle, meaning the Czech side will continue in international action in the spring, after their final Champions League match. After the game, this is what Slavia’s keeper Martin Vaniak had to say:

“If somebody had told me before the group stage began that we would clinch 5 pts in the group with a game in hand, I would have said ‘You’re crazy!’. A lot of people didn’t even think we would make it into the Champions League, but we did and we got five points and that’s pretty nice.”