CHELSEA TV EXCLUSIVE: PETR ON PRAGUE
The Europa League draw takes Petr Cech, the European champion goalkeeper, back to the club he left as a teenager to develop his talent abroad.
The young Cech spent a single season at Sparta Prague, his second professional club, before moving to Rennes in the French top flight, but he has plenty of reason to remember his year playing in the Czech capital, and he is delighted with Thursday's round of 32 pairing, as he told Chelsea TV.
'It is fantastic for me to be able after 12 years to finally play a Czech team in a European competition,' Cech said.
'Although the ideal scenario was to play them in the Champions League, this is one of the positives from not being able to play in the Champions League now. We will try to win the Europa League now and it is great for me to have this experience of going home and playing for Chelsea in Czech Republic.'
He was just 19 and playing for Sparta when he set a new record for the Czech league for minutes without conceding a goal. The shut-out was just over 900 minutes in duration. He also tasted Champions League football for the first time.
'Back then you had two group stages and us and Bayern Munich managed to go to the second group stage and there we had games against Real Madrid,' Cech recalls.
'Against Feyenoord we won 2-0l in Rotterdam and we beat them 4-0 at home. Feyenoord finished third in our group and they went on to win the UEFA Cup so it shows how well we did that year.
'I played 12 games at the age of 19 in the Champions League which is priceless in terms of experience, and historically Sparta is the best Czech club so at 19 I learnt about an environment where drawing is not good enough and it was a great help. When I joined Chelsea I knew exactly what to expect.'
Turning his attention to the present day and the challenge Chelsea will face over two legs in February, Cech reported:
'Sparta haven't had a fantastic year in the league but they compensated that with the Europa League because they have had really good games in that and they have played well.
'They have some experienced players but they are a young team and that is why the consistency is not right there when they play the league, but on a good day they are a very good team because they are hungry and they want to show they are good enough.
'For them every European game is like a game of their lives which makes it even harder to play against. Now they will play the European champions and that will make it even more special for them so we need to be careful in our approach.'