- Associated Press - Saturday, September 10, 2016

PRAGUE (AP) - Thousands welcomed Tomas Rosicky in his highly anticipated return to Sparta Prague and the Czech league after more than 15 years away on Saturday, giving the playmaker a standing ovation and chanting his name.

The 35-year-old Rosicky came on as substitute in the 72nd minute for his first Czech league game since Dec. 1, 2000, when Sparta beat archrival Slavia Prague 2-1.

“It was a wonderful experience for me,” Rosicky said. “I’m really thankful to the fans.”

He made his presence felt with smart passes and playmaking qualities for which he is known as “The Little Mozart.”

More than 14,000 fans came to Sparta’s stadium to see Rosicky play Mlada Boleslav. Only some 10,000 were in the stands last Sunday for a 2018 World Cup qualifier against Northern Ireland.

It was the first game for Rosicky since hurting his thigh in a 2-2 draw against Croatia on June 17 at the European Championship in France.

He said he needed more training to be able to start matches.

“I felt pretty good with the ball,” Rosicky said. “But I need at least one more week of a decent training to be ready to play from the beginning.”

In its next game, Sparta travels to Southampton for a Europa League game on Thursday.

Sparta is the most successful Czech club, but in recent years has been shaded by Viktoria Plzen. It hopes Rosicky’s return will help the club win the title again, and above all to qualify for the lucrative Champions League for the first time since 2005.

Despite Rosicky’s presence, Sparta was held to 2-2, and lay second in the league after six matches, two points behind Zlin.

“Everyone could see it was not good,” Rosicky said. “We need to improve.”

Rosicky signed a two-year contract with Sparta last month after he 10 years with Arsenal. He moved to Borussia Dortmund in January 2001 after three seasons with Sparta for what was then a record transfer fee in the Bundesliga.

He played 105 internationals, and said he still has not decided yet if he wants to continue with the national team.

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