Sparta Prague took a significant step in overcoming the memories of their 3-1 aggregate defeat by Panathinaikos at this stage of the UEFA Champions League last season by inflicting the same scoreline on the Greek side in the first leg of this tie.
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The Czech outfit established a two-goal lead by the break thanks to efforts from Jan Holenda and Kamil Vacek while the visitors were reeling further when Djibril Cisse failed to convert from the penalty spot ten minutes before the break.
Henk Ten Cate’s charges did reduce arrears midway through the second half through Dimitris Salpingidis but substitute Lubos Kalouda struck the hosts’ third with just four minutes remaining, meaning last year’s first knockout round participants have it all to do in the Athens return.
Sparta had lost all four of their previous games against Panathinaikos who had won all but one of nine matches since 2001 against Czech sides, so it was no surprise the visitors started confidently.
The home team, missing captain Patrik Berger to a knee injury, survived early pressure as goalkeeper Jaromir Blazek parried Giorgos Karagounis’s shot in the sixth minute. The tide turned, though, when Holenda headed in Ondrej Kusnar’s cross in the 26th minute and Vacek added a second six minutes later after some poor defending from the Greek rearguard.
Panathinaikos were thrown a lifeline when Blazek brought down Salpingidis in the area but the home keeper saved Cisse’s penalty. Unperturbed, Ten Cate’s men did reply when Salpingidis buried Nikos Spiropoulos’s cross from close range on 67 minutes.
Jozef Chovanec introduced Kalouda for the final quarter of an hour and the talented midfielder scored his first Sparta goal from the edge of the area to complete a notable success.