Thursday 8 March marks the first round of ties in the last 16 of the Europa League. One tie which stood out immediately for thefootballblether was Viktoria Plzen (who we have written about before: The Tribute of the Plzen Juggernaut ; Bohemian Armchair Football ; Czech First League – Mid Season Review ) being drawn against Sporting Club de Portugal.
An intriguing tie, Sporting have a magnificent recent pedigree in European Competition and are world renowned for their excellent youth academy which has produced a not insignificant number of top players in recent years.
Plzen on the other hand have been in great form both domestically and in Europe this season. They have also taken time out to speak to thefootballblether about the match up with Sporting CP:
1. First of all, many congratulations on reaching this stage of the competition. How much of an achievement is this for Viktoria? Thanks a lot. It’s a huge achievment for our club, because we are really in an elite company alongside very good football teams. And still, we are the only Czech club this year who has reached this stage. The name of our club in football world is growing and that’s very important. We also want to help to improve the name of the Czech football!
2. Is this a stage of the Competition that Viktoria would expect to reach, or has this gone beyond expectations? First of all, our expectations were to qualify from the group stage and enjoy the Europa League football during the spring. Then after the draw we got Partizan and we thought our team is strong enough to qualify to the next round. Now we got Sporting, very hard opponent, but anything is possible.
3. Would Viktoria hope to make the appearance in the latter stages of the Europa League a regular occurrence? We have been in the Champions League twice and we are not going to lie you – we want to make it again. It’s the competition for the best clubs in Europe, even in the world. It’s such a pride to get there. But of course, Europa League is also very big and important competition.
4. How difficult is it to reach this stage of the Europa League? We have seen teams from Scotland fail to reach this stage many, many times before (including Celtic FC this year), has this required extra effort from Viktoria (extra training, finance or players) – or has Vrba just assembled a very talented and well prepared squad this season? It’s very hard. Every match in the Europa League is specific and totally different from the domestic league. You have to have that well prepared squad, you have to be ready for completely different football styles across some countries, you have to be lucky enough. Every factor is important and although it sometimes looks it’s easy, it’s not. Never.
5. Sporting CP will present a very tough challenge – which players are you most looking forward to facing? We are not looking especially to facing some players, we are looking for another two big matches in the Europa League. Of course we are well aware of there are a big football names like Rui Patrício, Jérémy Mathieu, Fábio Coentrão, Bas Dost, Bruno Fernandes, etc. Sporting has a very good team and it will be a big challenge to play against them.
6. Most importantly – what result do you hope to achieve in the first leg? We hope the result in Portugal will be good enough to have a chance before the 2nd leg at home. Of course the best would be a win, but Sporting has lost only one home game this season, so it’s gonna be hard.
7. This season, Viktoria have been amazing – winning all but 3 HET Liga games. The bad results (0-0, 0-0, 0-1) have come after Europa League games – how hard has it been to juggle the competitions and ensure players are rested and prepared? It’s very hard, we know that from previous years and every year it’s the same. But we have a strong team and every player is well aware of that. Our substitutes are waiting for their chances and working hard everytime, so we are not worry about this.
8. On a broader note, Sporting CP are regulars in European competition with a famous youth academy – will Viktoria look to learn anything from their opponents and the way Sporting CP are organised? Everytime we play a match against a team from other country our management is discussing with opponent’s management about some important topics and things inside both clubs so we could learn something new. Maybe it will be about the academy this time, yes, that’s possible, because we know about that.
9. How big a game is this for the Viktoria supporters? Do you expect a full stadium? A big one. We strongly believe we will have a full stadium, because our fans have been amazing all the time and it would give as a big boost.
10. Finally – can Viktoria win both the HET Liga and the Europa League? Hopefully at least one of them!
Plzen are clearly looking forward to the match therefore and we are all keen to see how both legs play out. The Europa League at this stage has become something of an “old school” style European competition with a variety of teams, many good and high quality teams from different nations competing for a place in the next round. The teams are also culturally different, meaning different styles and approaches will be evident throughout this stage of the competition. This is in stark contrast to the Champions League at this stage which is or has been dominated by Super Clubs from a selected group of countries in recent years.
This is a fascinating insight into how Plzen are approaching and looking forward to the game, we thank them immensely for their input.
Special thanks to Michal Belšán and Václav Hanzlík from Viktoria Plzen for their words and help.