The Bohemian-Moravian Football Association (CMFS) is hoping to field a 12th man in the all-important European Championship qualifying match with Holland Wednesday, April 26. That “man” is Sparta Praha’s stadium.
The 25-year-old stadium alongside the Letna plain in Prague 7 was closed for nine months in 1994 for a 62 million Kc ($2.4 million) renovation. The construction work not only made the stadium one of the most impressive in Central Europe but also created a more intense atmosphere by removing the running track that separated pitch and stands. With all of the 22,000 tickets sold long ago, the CMFS hopes the passion of the supporters will inspire the Czechs and unsettle the Dutch.
The players on the Czech national team as well as coach Dusan Uhrin like the new-look stadium and prefer it to the alternative, Strahov Stadium in Prague 5.
“[Sparta] is a top European soccer stadium, and it would be stupid not to take advantage of it,” asserts Uhrin. “I think that only at Sparta could the crowd create an atmosphere similar to the one we experienced in Rotterdam, where the Dutchmen enjoyed massive support from their fans. This might be the key factor for success.”
Some evidence that Sparta is more popular with the fans than Strahov is provided by attendance figures. The last time the Czech national team played at Sparta Stadium, then with a capacity of 35,500, was October 1989, when a 3-0 victory in a World Cup qualifying match with Switzerland was witnessed by 34,000 people. The last time the national team played at the 20,000-capacity Strahov was in September 1992 against Belgium. The Czechs lost 2-1 before a crowd of 10,500.