In the past six years, Savia Prague has been the most dominant football club in Czech Football, having won the league four times and finishing second twice. They have become regulars in European competitions and even played the likes of Barcelona, Inter and Dortmund in their 2019/20 Champions League campaign. In the current domestic season, they find themselves in a tight title race against fellow Czech giants Viktoria Plzeň. Going into Gameweek 21, they had a slender two-point advantage, but after Plzeň’s win on Saturday they needed a win or draw against fourth placed Slovácko on Sunday (26th February 2023) to get back on top. However, this would not be an easy task as the visitors had not conceded in 360 minutes and had defeated Plzeň 3 – 0 just the previous week.
The entrance to the Slavia Museum at Fortuna Arena. The large banners pay tribute to Slavia legends and the silverware they have won.
I happened to be visiting Prague for the weekend, so I decided a Sunday afternoon at Fortuna Arena would be the perfect way to cap off my trip. My friend Hrishikesh, who I used to play youth football with in India, was also going to head over from Linz, Austria (where he is studying), so it was going to be a good time.
My goal for this game was to get to Fortuna Arena a good two hours before kickoff, so I could visit the Slavia Museum and get myself a scarf before they sold out. Unfortunately, I was well behind schedule as I was busy visiting Prague Castle and the Josofov district. When I did decide to head to the stadium, I missed my tram (by waiting at the opposite side of the road), so that delayed me further. Luckily, I caught the next one and had a great conversation with a group of Slavia fans on the way to the stadium. I also got a glimpse of Ďolíček Stadium, the home of Bohemians 1905 (one of the other two first division clubs in Prague), which was just two tram stops before Fortuna Arena. I got to the stadium with about thirty minutes to kick-off but the line to the fans shop was massive. By the time I did get into the shop and buy a scarf, there was only a few minutes to kick-off, so I rushed inside in an attempt to find my seat before the opening whistle.
In the end, I reached my seat just as the players were walking onto the pitch. Hrishikesh and I were seated high in a packed František Veselý stand, that runs along the touchline. The Slavia Ultras filled the North Stand, which was behind the goal to our right, while the visiting Slovácko fans were given a small corner to our left. Being a club from Uherské Hradiště, a town of just 24,000 inhabitants, Slovácko did not have a lot of travelling supporters.
I must say I took an immediate liking towards Fortuna Arena, a modern, yet relatively small stadium with just under 20,000 seats. Three of the four stands have only one tier, making them steep, compact and loud – the perfect ingredients for a great footballing atmosphere.
Our view of the action from the second last row of the František Veselý stand.
Before kick-off, a moment of silence was held for Marin Pěnička, former Slavia player and a 1996 league champion, who passed away at 53 that week. The Czech Fire Department, along with its Urban Search and Rescue team, were also recognized for their relief efforts in Turkey following the recent earthquakes. Due to all this, kick-off was delayed, and we were able to soak in the atmosphere despite arriving quite late.
When it did kick-off there was some very commendable football on display. Slavia is a very possession-oriented team, and they had some impressive build ups and passing combinations throughout the game. However, their opening goal of the game, which came in the 12th minute, was as direct as it gets. 20-year-old Slavia midfielder Christos Zafeiris sent in an out swinging corner, which was headed home, quite emphatically, by Peter Olayinka.
Slavia continued to work the ball around the Slovácko box, and in the 29th minute an impressive string of passes put David Jurásek through on goal. However, some proactive goalkeeping from Slovácko’s Filip Nguyen prevented Jurásek and Slavia from doubling their lead.
Slovácko’s best chance of the first half came in the 36th minute when they attempted a set play from a deep free-kick. The ball was driven down the line, into the Slavia box, to the near-post runner, Michal Kadlec, who then crossed it in across goal. Unfortunately for Slovácko, there was no one at the far post and the ball went harmlessly out of play.
Slovácko had another opportunity to equalize late in the first half. Marek Havlík won the ball off Zafeiris just outside the Slavia box, but his low drive was beaten away by Ondřej Kolář, Slavia’s netminder.
At halftime, Hrishikesh and I decided to walk around inside the stadium and explore a little bit. Unfortunately, the concourses were crowded with people trying to get a halftime beer, so we could not get around all that much. Between the bodies, we caught glimpses of some incredible murals on the inside walls of the North Stand, but a glimpse was all we could manage.
As the second half kicked off, the sun began setting behind the J.W. Madden Stand, which made for an extremely pleasant view and the oblique rays momentarily relieved us from the intense cold.
Slavia continued to dominate proceedings and were looking to extend their lead. In the 66th minute, they broke mercilessly on the counter, after David Douděra won a fifty-fifty ball in midfield, but the attack was shut down by another significant one-on-one stop from Nguyen.
A few minutes later, Slavia doubled their lead from another corner, and it was Frank Olaynika who got the decisive touch once again. It was not so direct this time, as the initial cross was deflected beyond the far post, but some poor defending allowed a second more threatening cross, which caused the damage.
Pitch-level post-game pictures go hard, especially when the sky is that beautiful.
Despite some more half chances for both teams, the game finished 2 – 0 and Slavia returned to the top of the table after a brief 22-hour absence. The Slavia Ultras were loud for the entirety of the game, though it was not a big enough occasion for them to bring out the pyro and tifos that they are known for. After the game, we walked around to the front of the stadium, which housed the Slavia Museum and exhibited large banners of legendary Salvia players (including Vladimír Šmicer), for some pictures. Despite Czechia not necessarily being known for its football, I really enjoyed this experience. Maybe it was because I watched it in the company of a friend whom I had not seen for five years, or because of the golden hour sun that shone onto the pitch for half the game. Nevertheless, it brought a happy end to a very successful trip to Prague.