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Full Time - Fulham 0 Sparta Prague 0

last updated Tuesday 17th July 2001, 9:44 PM
Under cover of rain the team set off from Motspur Park at 5.15pm as they made their way down the A3 to Woking’s Kingfield stadium.

With the match being played on a slippery surface, the signs were that this encounter would not be a typical pre-season run out for either side. England boss, Sven Goran Eriksson was also in attendance so both Lee Clark and Sean Davis had an added incentive to put in impressive performances.

Sparta got the match under way, yet it was Fulham who had the ball resting in the net first as Lee Clark rifled past the Czech ‘keeper after he latched on to a Louis Saha through-ball.

Fulham were making all of the early running, looking to test their opponents’ defencive capabilities. Although Sparta managed to contain the early exchanges with their defencive shape, Fulham looked the more dangerous side.

Bjarne Goldbaek was looking to continue his good pre-season form by getting involved in the action early on. Unfortunately for the Danish international, his first major involvement in the game was to be on the receiving end of a nasty-looking clash of heads – which resulted in Goldbaek being replaced by Kevin Betsy on 8 minutes.

Sparta were by no means giving Fulham an easy ride seeing that the Whites had to make the ball do a lot of work for relatively little return. This was not wholly unexpected as Sparta coach Jaroslav Hrebík is well renowned for his tactical awareness.

As the first-half wore on, Fulham looked to be crafting the more likely chances, yet the Whites were still unable to totally shake off Sparta’s heavily populated defence.

The Czech’s main tactic throughout the first-half was to leave hitman Marek Kincl alone upfront to chase after any available scraps. Despite not having much support in Sparta’s non-counter-attacking play, Kincl was a willing runner in both attack and defence.

As Fulham gradually began to turn the screw, the watching crowd were waiting in eager anticipation as the opening goal looked imminent. Yet it was Sparta who came closest to netting on 36 minutes as John Collins managed to head off the line following a Czech attack.

The interval arrived with the score goalless and the rain streaming down.

The second half saw Sparta make five changes whilst Fulham looked to keep with the side which put the Czech’s under pressure in the first period.

Fulham’s tactic looked to be working as Kevin Betsy ran clear and on to a Sean Davis pass. However, the former-Woking forward snatched at his chance and put his shot wide.

With Zat Knight having an impressive match in defence, his equally lofty Czech counterpart, Jirí Jarošík was playing the enforcer’s role in midfield. Jarošík, a former under-21 international, who has now graduated to the full Czech squad was looking typically hostile in his influential defensive midfield role.

The conditions began to steadily worsen as Fulham still looked to pass their way through their resolute opponents. Yet with the ball zipping across the greasy Kingfield pitch, Fulham’s passing movements were forced into becoming more direct.

By all indications, Sparta were looking to finish the match with a totally different looking side on the pitch as highly-rated youngster Tomáš Jun joined the fray on 73 minutes.

Sparta’s defensive organisation started to come to the fore as the match began to draw to a close. Consistently closing Fulham down, Sparta’s well-regimented lines worked in perfect synchronisation to prevent the Whites from taking the lead.

However, in the dying seconds Luis Boa Morte was presented with the perfect opportunity to snatch a late winner as the Czech ‘keeper parried a Saha shot across the face of goal. As the ball rolled parallel with the goal line, Boa Morte closed in for what surely looked like the winner.

As the referee looked at his watch, the Portuguese international somehow managed to despatch his shot well away from goal to end the match in a rueful manner.

All in all, Fulham managed to contain a Sparta side, which was constantly being enlivened with the addition of fresh legs. Yet the watching supporters will no doubt feel that under better conditions, the back of the net would have been easier to find.

Fulham Line Up:
Maik Taylor, Steve Finnan, Rufus Brevett, Alain Goma, Zat Knight, Sean Davis, Lee Clark, John Collins, Bjarne Goldbaek (Kevin Betsy 8), Luis Boa Morte, Louis Saha
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