Champions League - Minnows share spoils
Viktoria Plzen's first proper Champions League match ended in a 1-1 draw at home to fellow Group I underdogs BATE Borisov.
In what is realistically a battle for third place and a spot in the knockout stages of the Europa League, the home side were desperate to win in order to get some much-needed points on the board ahead of games against Barcelona and Milan.
Marek Bakos gave them the lead with a fine team goal in first-half stoppage time, but the visitors rallied and deservedly equalised through Brazilian Renan Bressan in a match short on quality but not lacking in endeavour.
Played at a Sparta Prague stadium nearly three times the size of Plzen’s ground, the well-supported ‘hosts’ started with the degree of excitement one would expect from Champions League debutants, attacking in cavalier fashion from kick off.
They were unable to break the deadlock though, with defender David Bystron heading over from a good position and star striker Bakos unable to really get into the game despite the impressive Vaclav Pilar’s best efforts to find him.
After their initial shell-shock subsided, BATE - who are no rookies, having got this far twice in recent seasons - grew into the game and largely looked for the counter-attack, a more direct proposition than the hosts.
Initially subdued, former Chelsea striker Mateja Kezman - who joined BATE two weeks ago after a spell in Hong Kong - sparked into life, hitting the side netting with one effort and making himself available to deliveries from wide as the Belarusian league leaders put pressure on the home defence.
Mikhail Gordeychuck had a fizzing drive deflected just wide, while skipper Yegor Filipenko met the resultant corner with a downward header that deserved finishing.
It seemed that BATE would be the side to score first, but on the stroke of half-time the Czech side revived their early-match form with a wonderful sweeping move that saw Petr Jiracek spin off the defence in style and drill a brilliant low ball for Bakos to stroke home first time.
The visitors tried to bite back early in the second half, with Renan almost handing Dzmitry Baha a tap-in with a delightful low ball that bounced just behind the young midfielder.
Kezman even had the ball in the back of the net, rolling back the years with a chest-and-volley that was correctly disallowed for offside.
It was not all BATE though, as skipper Pavel Horvath’s clever free-kick found David Limbersky unmarked only for the full-back to mis-hit his shot, while just after the hour mark Bakos fired weakly at the keeper, apparently surprised to be onside when found 12 yards out.
The miss was soon punished as the visitors launched another of their counter attacks, this time Filip Rudik bisecting the defence with a brilliant through ball that was met by the onrushing Renan, who slid the finish under keeper Marek Cech.
Renan was taken off minutes later, having picked up a needless booking that worried young coach Viktor Goncharenko he may get himself sent off.
That seemed to knock the stuffing out of Plzen, with barely anything created as BATE reverted to counter-attacking type while the Czechs struggled to find any bright ideas.
Coach Pavel Vrba responded by bringing on forward Jakub Hora for Pilar but BATE looked the more likely, even if Cech was not really tested.
The final minutes saw both sides restricted to long shots and a draw was ultimately the fair result - with Milan and Barca also cancelling each other out at the Camp Nou.