Aug 26 2010

Zilina to face Chelsea, Marseille & Spartak Moscow. Reaction & Information!

Published by at 10:51 pm under European and tagged: , , , ,

MSK Zilina, the Slovak Champions, have drawn Chelsea, Spartak Moscow & Marseille in the draw for the Champions League group stages.  In this post I give a brief reaction from Slovakia and some basic information which could be useful to fans travelling to Zilina.

Zilina & Lovech line up for qualifier at Pod Dubnom

Zilina must be over the moon with this draw, in their first ever Champions League group stage appearance.  Although Zilina did play Chelsea before in a Champions League qualifer in 03/04, they will still be excited about welcoming back the Londoners. Obviously any European ‘minnow’ will be thrilled with the prospect of hosting (and travelling to) a true giant like Chelsea.  In a country like Slovakia, it is really the biggest names in football that are needed to stir up real interest among anybody but the most passionate of fans. The reality is that the Slovak press probably provides more coverage of the English Premier League, Bundesliga (or any other leagues where the top Slovak players ply their trade) than of it’s own domestic league.  With Chelsea coming to town, the Slovak football bandwagon is bound to gather momentum and this can only benefit the domestic game in a country where the game has more than it’s fair share of issues.

Obviously Marseille and Spartak Moscow are formidable opponents, all teams are at this level. Zilina will simply be happy to be rubbing shoulders with Europe’s elite, especially after coming through 3 rounds of qualifiers. Back in July, the Slovak Champions got off to a shaky start in Malta against Birkirkara, before overcoming the Bulgarian outfit Litex Lovech and then finally easing past a woeful Sparta Prague in the playoff round.  However, if Zilina catch one either Marseille or Spartak on an off day, they may fancy their chances of gaining at least a point from this group.  In front of a packed home stadium with possible adverse weather conditions to contend with, Zilina away shouldn’t be an easy tie for any team in Europe.  However, coming out of this group with even a single point will be considered a remarkable achievement for Zilina given the general standard of club football in Slovakia at the moment.

What makes the tie with Chelsea that little bit more intriguing is that Momodou Ceesay, Zilina’s 6’5″ Gambian striker, was on Chelsea’s books 3 years ago when he was just 18.  As must be the case with many players, Ceesay didn’t get a look-in at Chelsea and moved on.  Belgian club KVC Westerlo picked up the young Gambian, but obviously he wasn’t happy in Belgium and his record of 25 appearances and 0 goals between 2008-10 is less than impressive.  From Westerlo Ceesay moved onto Zilina, and it could easily be argued that he was taking another step-down in level by moving to Slovakia. However Ceesay’s performances in the yellow and green of Zilina have been taking the Slovak league by storm this season, and what is even more impressive is that he is producing even better quality football in the Champions League. He was the game breaker against Litex Lovech in the 2nd leg of the 3rd qualifying round and undoubtedly the star of Zilina’s comprehensive 2 leg victory over Sparta Prague.  Especially his overhead kick to put Zilina 1-0 up in the return leg was nothing short of sensational.  The striker has a languid style, but is quick, strong on the ball, good in the air and packs a serious shot from distance.  All round attributes which will inevitably lead to a move elsewhere sometime soon, the only question is where and when?!  It would simply be sensational for Ceesay and Zilina of course if he were able to score against his former club at the game’s biggest stage!

Ceesay celebrates his goal against Sparta Prague (source

Anyway I’ll preview the respective ties nearer the time.  For now onto some information about Zilina:

Zilina is Slovakia’s 4th largest city with a population of 85,000.  It is set in the attractive North West of Slovakia, some 200km from the capital Bratislava.  Anyone travelling to Zilina would be strongly advised to fly to Bratislava (or Vienna) and travel by bus or train.  The bus is a perfectly feasible option and would take around 2.5 hours (don’t get on a slow bus!)  Comfortable trains also run from Bratislava main station but also take at least 2.5 hours.  Don’t be fooled looking at a map and thinking Zilina is closer to Krakow, it may well be, but connections between Slovakia and Poland are atrocious and with the Tatras mountains in the way, and @jonawils was absolutely right when he stated on twitter this afternoon that driving from Krakow would take at least 7 hours!

The city centre is very attractive and there are a few decent and affordable hotels (book very early!)  It is worth spending a night there after the game as usually Zilina is not too intimidating, and it can be a very pleasant place to enjoy a beer.  There were some problems with the Sparta Prague fans, who felt that the police came in a bit heavy handed in reaction to their setting off pyrotechnics in the main square. A city centre bar was smashed up and 16 Sparta fans ended up in hospital after the police went in heavy with horses and dogs.  Possibly the Sparta fans have a point about their mistreatment as the police seem to let the home fans do the ‘pyrotechnics’ to their heart’s content!

Zilina gather in the main square

Whatever the ins and outs of that story, the Slovak police certainly aren’t shy about using force if they see something they don’t like, and it is really advisable to steer clear of any sign of trouble.  As far as the Zilina fans are concerned, they have a relatively good reputation, are not renowned for their hooligan element, but they do put up an impressive ‘Ultras’ display for a town of it’s size!

Zilina fans in Prague

The stadium is arguably the best in Slovakia, but with a capacity for Champions League games of 10,800 that is not saying much.  Unfortunately (as you can read more about here), Slovakia is not a country where small provincial teams have the option to move big games to the National Stadium in the capital city! Unless they decide differently, the away enclosure holds no more than 500 places, so I wish perspective visitors to Zilina the best of luck with obtaining tickets from their clubs!

Away end Zilina - 500 seats at best?

For those who do have the privilege of making the trip, the atmosphere is quite special when the stadium is full as it obviously will be for all Champions League games.  I would love to hear from anybody planning on travelling to Zilina, to either offer further advice, or catch up on your experiences after the trip!  Please get in touch..

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Zilina to face Chelsea, Marseille & Spartak Moscow. Reaction & Information!”

  1.   Andreaon 27 Aug 2010 at 3:19 am

    Travel assistance needed in Slovakia? Visit :)
    Nice article!!

  2.   Fedor Pucaon 27 Aug 2010 at 3:26 am

    Another (and perhaps the most comfortable, if slightly more costly) way of getting to Zilina is by booking a flight to the local airport (via the Prague Ruzyne airport). Some of the better (and again, more costly) hotels that are also within several minutes’ walking distance from the stadium include Polom, Dubna skala and Holiday Inn; among the other hotels worth considering are the Boss hotel in downtown Zilina and Villa Necas (with one of Slovakia’s top restaurants).

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