Stories and pictures of the beautiful game.
The Czech Cup is not the most popular competition in the country. Average attendance figures are low, especially for matches without any of the big teams like AC Sparta Praha or FC Viktoria Plzeň. The absence of those teams in this year’s final seemed a bad premise.
Instead, FK Baumit Jablonec and FC Slovan Liberec contested for the cup – and if you’re not a connoisseur of Czech football, you’ll most likely be like: „who?“. But on closer inspection, this constellation ain’t so bad: it’s a derby, both teams are only about 9 miles apart, and the final would take place at the stadium of FK Mlada Boleslav, only about 30 miles away from those teams’ homes. That u-shaped ground only seats 5,000 – and each team’s fans got a sideline stand.
Now, in a different country, this small ground would have been sold out in minutes, but we’re in the Czech Republic where 4,382 people in attendance can be considered a success.
Both sideline stands filled up nicely and each group displayed a block banner under which they lit some flares. The atmosphere was very good, both fan groups supported their teams throughout the match and turned the ground into a little cauldron. And while both teams brought an even number of fans along, the blue-clad Liberec crowd had a bigger group of active fans.
Liberec was the underdog, they barely avoided relegation while Jablonec will finish the season in third place and won both league matches. The underdog played with more effort and passion but – as is often the case – conceded a goal anyway (minute 38, header after a corner). The second half turned out to be a bit of a drag as Jablonec mostly tried to hold on to that lead, while Liberec seemed out of ideas.
The Liberec fans felt like they still wanted to use their sparkling toys anyway and held about a dozen flares into the dawning sky. And then it happened: a high cross right through the middle was lobbed over the Jablonec defense, and found recently substituted Marek Bakoš, who put the ball in the back of the net in minute 86. Half the stadium was ecstatic!
Nothing else happened until the final whistle. It is a nice feature of the Czech cup, that there is no extra time – so this went straight to penalties. Given the quality of large parts of this match, I did not mind getting down to business right away. Hero of the cup final turned out to be the Liberec keeper who saved two penalties (Jablonec also hit the cross-bar once). Liberec’ fans celebrated the cup win with more flares and chants.
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