PRAGUE (AP) — Viktoria Plzen is in familiar waters as it prepares to play Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Inter Milan in the Champions League.
The Czech champion has faced European heavyweights before in the group stage but hopes the results will be different this time.
“We believe,” said assistant coach Pavel Horváth, the former Czech Republic playmaker who captained Plzen in some of its biggest battles in Europe’s most prestigious club competition. “We're ready.”
Plzen will play Barcelona at Camp Nou on Wednesday.
Viktoria reached the group stage for the first time in 2011 and was immediately tested by Barcelona, which won 2-0 at Camp Nou and 4-0 at Plzen.
Two years later, Bayern routed the Czech club 5-0 in Munich, handing Plzen its biggest defeat in European competitions, and won 1-0 win at Plzen. Manchester City was another tough opponent and won both encounters.
Four years ago, Real Madrid won 5-0 at Plzen and 2-1 in Spain.
All three previous campaigns looked like mission impossible but Plzen each time managed to finish third, securing at least a spot in the second-tier Europa League. It claimed a valuable 2-1 victory over Roma in 2018 and a 2-2 draw with AC Milan in 2011.
But to emulate at least the partial success of the previous campaigns might be too hard to handle for Viktoria. With three multiple Champions League winners to play, their Group C is a true “group of death.”
Horváth, currently an assistant to coach Michal Bílek, believes his team is now ready to surprise the favorites.
In its first match at Camp Nou, defending will be key, he said.
“I think that the current Plzen team defends very well, and the way we do it might not be comfortable for Barcelona,” Horváth said.
In 2011, Barcelona's lineup included Xavi Hernández, the current coach who is rebuilding the club with a goal to become as dominant as it was when he was on the pitch.
Horváth expects a similar game “with lots of short passes, and a pressure imposed on us when they lose the ball. Those are the key features, and, of course, also the individual skills of the players.”
“To face (Robert) Lewandowski, it’s always a threat and he’s not alone,” Horváth said. “Above all, Raphinha is a huge boost” for Barcelona.
“But I’m looking forward (to playing Barcelona) and believe our guys will be more successful than we were,” he said.
Plzen eliminated Helsinki, Tiraspol and Qarabağ in the qualifying to reach the group stage of the Champions League for the fourth time.
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Karel Janicek, The Associated Press