AC Sparta Praha's bid to end a four-year absence from the UEFA Champions League group stage began last week with a 3-0 second qualifying round first-leg win at SK Liepājas Metalurgs – key to that victory was midfielder Marek Matějovský.
The 28-year-old Czech international set up two of Sparta's goals, a happy start to his return home. In January 2008 he left FK Mladá Boleslav for Reading FC, his skills and creativity having earned comparisons to a compatriot who had moved to England 18 months previously, Tomáš Rosický.
However, he could not save Reading from Premier League relegation, and with his time in England overshadowed by stomach muscle injuries, departed this summer with a year left on his contract. "I don't regret the English experience," he said. "I became accustomed to a more physical game; you even get hard challenges in training there."
Sparta paid €1m for the former FK Jablonec 97 player, and after signing a four-deal deal, Matějovský made his intentions plain: "
I'm here to win the title and succeed in Champions League qualifying. A player can't aim for anything else at Sparta." His performance last week was a good start, and they will aim to confirm a tie against the winners of the fixture between FC İnter Bakı and KKS Lech Poznań after Wednesday's visit of Metalurgs.
Matějovský has already had a taste of top-level continental competition at UEFA EURO 2008. Having made his international debut in February 2007, in the absence of the injured Rosický Matějovský orchestrated the 3-0 win in Germany later that year that sealed qualification, scoring his maiden international goal. However, his finals campaign had an unhappy end with an ankle injury in the first half of a dramatic 3-2 group-stage loss to Turkey that ended the Czech Republic's involvement.
He lost his place in the starting XI and has been out of the squad since last November. "I'm not thinking about the national side now," said Matějovský. His performance in Latvia last Wednesday suggests he may yet come into coach Michal Bílek's UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying plans.