Archive for December, 2010

Dec 30 2010

Czech & Slovak Football’s fight against Racism

When I first came to live in Olomouc in 1998, one of the first football matches I attended was Sigma (the local team) versus Viktoria Žižkov in the top division of the Czech league. The occasion was less notable for anything that happened on the field than for the concerted racial abuse, mostly in the form of monkey noises, aimed at Žižkov’s Zimbabwean player Kennedy Chihuri. It is difficult to define the emotions I felt on witnessing this. Disgust and embarrassment were certainly among them. So was shock. I thought I’d come to live in a university town, a place known for a metropolitan outlook and liberal values. While I hadn’t expected the football terraces to play host to symposiums on tolerance, it was definitely an unpleasant surprise to hear significant numbers of home fans – local people presumably – react so primitively to the presence of a black player in the opposing team.

At the time, Chihuri was the only black footballer in the Gambrinus Liga and I was soon to learn that he received appalling treatment wherever he played. Worse, he didn’t get much support from those in a position to offer it. I recall once watching Slavia Prague against Žižkov live on TV. As Chihuri went to take a corner in front of a section of Slavia fans, bananas were thrown from the stands in his direction. The commentator didn’t pretend not to notice this but his words  - ‚special greetings there from the Slavia fans to Chihuri‘ – and the tone in which he uttered them suggested not condemnation but mild amusement. The Czech football authorities, meanwhile, seemed all too happy to ignore such incidents, at least as long as they took place in domestic football and thus weren’t drawn to the attention of an international audience.

During that 1998/99 season, English language newspaper the Prague Post published an interview with Chihuri. I’d already seen him give the odd bit of post-match reaction on TV and knew that he was articulate and spoke decent Czech. In print, he came across as generous and intelligent. He didn’t lightly dismiss his experiences of racism but did insist that he was happy living in Prague and greatly valued the warm relationship he had with the Žižkov fans. He also expressed the hope that more foreign players, from Africa or elsewhere, would come to play in the Czech Republic. In time, of course, they did. Looking back now, I think of Chihuri as a Czech league version of Cyrille Regis or Viv Anderson ; someone who, in running an initial gauntlet of racial hostility, helped smooth the path for others. I haven’t been to a Czech game for years but do know that there are several black players at Gambrinus Liga clubs these days. And it’s probably safe to assume that football-related racism in the country, while still a problem, is not as overt or reflexive as it once was.

That, after all, seems to be true of Slovakia. A real watershed in this country was the Slovakia v England World Cup qualifying game in 2002 in Bratislava. On that occasion, Emile Heskey in particular was subjected to shocking abuse by Slovak fans. Leaving aside the hypocritical attitude towards those incidents in sections of the English media (racism towards Turks during an England v Turkey match at Sunderland in the same qualifying campaign was widely ignored), the Slovak football authorities, and perhaps even some fans too, were embarrassed by the amount of unfavourable publicity which resulted. Certainly, since I came to live in Žilina in 2003, while I’ve heard racist sentiments expressed at football matches, instances of the kind of sustained abuse aimed at Chihuri and Heskey have been rare (one such instance is detailed later). Official anti-racism campaigns, with slogans such as ‚Kick racism into touch‘ or ‚Show racism a red card‘, have been fairly common in Slovakia over the last few years. Though easy to dismiss as tokenism, they have probably helped, if only because, with constant repetition, a simple message generally gets through to the majority.

Nowadays of course, there are several black players in the Slovak league, many of whom considerably enhance the quality of the football played. Žilina’s Issiaka Bello and Trnava’s Koro Koné are good examples but perhaps most significant of all is Karim Guédé, currently of Slovan Bratislava. Born in Hamburg, but of Togolese origin, Guédé is favourite to become the Slovak national team’s first ever black footballer. He plays as a defensive midfielder and, with his skill and strength, looks to be the ideal candidate for that role in the national team when Miroslav Karhan decides to retire. Coach Vladimir Weiss, who managed Guédé at Artmedia Petržalka, has publically stated that he holds that view and hopes a citizenship application for the player can be speeded up.

Seeing Guédé play for Slovakia would be great but would not, by itself, convince me that the game in the country has overcome racism. In July of this year, at a match in Žilina between MŠK and Slovan, there was a rare, but no less depressing, reminder that the problem does still exist. Slovan fielded two black players ; Guédé and a youngster from the Ivory Coast named Mamadou Bagayoko. Bagayoko had an eventful game. Starting on the right of midfield, he gave his side an early lead. After 25 minutes, he was switched to left-back following the sending-off of Marián Had and was effective in neutralising Žilina’s right flank. Then, in the last minute, Bagayoko was involved in the incident which led, first to a red card for the home side’s Ivan Lietava, then to an unseemly scuffle between several players which carried on after the final whistle. Once the referee had calmed everything down and most of the players had begun to leave the field, the Ivorian, one of the last to depart, had monkey chants directed at him by a group of Žilina fans. I was as shocked to hear this as I’d been when it happened to Chihuri 12 years before. It doesn’t matter that Bagayoko would almost certainly have been ignored had it not been for the on-field controversy ; the chants were clearly racist in nature and came as a timely reminder that this is indeed an issue we must not yet allow ourselves think has gone away.

Still, some perspective is helpful. Racism in England is also taking time to overcome. The late 1970s, it is generally agreed, were the years when the problem was at its most serious and players like Regis and Anderson are credited with being among those who endured the worst of it.Yet I well recall going to watch Everton in the 1988/89 season, and hearing half of the fans in the home end chanting, with apparent pride, ‘Everton are white’. Turkey’s players and fans were abused at the World Cup qualifier in 2003 and there are still reports of racist incidents, some of them anti-Semitic in nature, in English football today. If English football can claim, despite all this, that it has made progress in fighting racism (and, all things being relative, I believe it can), then so can Czech and Slovak football. The Bagayoko incident shows it has not been uninterrupted progress. It would also be right to point out that extreme nationalism in the form of anti-Hungarian sentiment afflicts the game in Slovakia and is probably worth a separate article all of its own. For now, though, I like to think that, if England came to play in Slovakia again, their black players wouldn’t have to put up with what Heskey endured 8 years ago. Whether the English media, so often prone to both self-congratulation and condemnation of others, would be prepared to acknowledge that is another question.

James Baxter

14 responses so far

Dec 22 2010

Why Kornel Salata should not move to Crvena Zvezda

Published by under Domestic,European

This headline more than caught my attention this morning, and regardless of whether it carries substance or not, this story has been wrangling with me ever since.  I have really strong feelings about it, and I am posting here on the blog because I am looking for people to offer logical suggestions to help me understand why the only remaining home-based regular Slovak International footballer is considering a move to Crvena Zvezda (Red Star) of the Serbian League:

  • In these days of Europe-wide football blogging, there is plenty of chat about ‘ranking’ the European football leagues.  Each individual football fan’s choice will be based on different criteria and obviously Slovakia won’t feature in most people’s top 10. Does Serbia?  In terms of Champions League participants this season, both Slovakia and Serbia exceeded expectations as Zilina & Partizan qualified.  Both teams ended on 0 points, Zilina’s goal difference was slight worse, Partizan’s fans made a big mark, otherwise not much to shout about.  Is Salata seriously thinking about Champions League football with Zvezda???
  • Slovan Bratislava actually defeated Crvena Zvezda in the Europa League this season.  Looking back on that match as we enter the last 32 of the competition, it seems so insignificant, but for the fans of both clubs this was a massive emotional, political, passionate event.  A Kornel Salata inspired Slovan defeated Zvezda, only a tough draw against Stuttgart prevented them from qualifying for the Europa League proper.  To my [simple] mind, this means that Slovan are actually better than Zvezda.  Why is Salata considering a move to the losers????
  • I seriously question how a move to the Serbian league can be considered a move up the ladder for Salata.  Admittedly, I do not know much about Serbian football, but I do get the feeling that with the exception of Partizan & Crvena Zvezda and perhaps one or two other teams, there is not a great deal of strength in depth in the Serbian league.  This potential move for Salata is as hard to understand as the move of Jakob Sylverstr to Dinamo Zagreb, I really would be grateful if anyone can offer an explanation why moving to the Croatian or Serbian league is considered a step forward from Slovakia?
  • Salata is from a Slovak-Hungarian background, and played 3 years of football with Artmedia Petrzalka.  His background has been questioned from external followers of the game in Slovakia; would it would pose a problem to the right-wing element of Slovan’s support?  I personally have never seen any display of animosity towards Salata from the Slovan fans and I take the liberty of assuming most would be sad to see him leave.
  • Can Zvezda offer more money than Slovan?  Possibly, I have no idea, although I doubt it.  If money is the sole reason why Salata is leaving then once again I argue that the team from the capital of the Slovak Republic must do more to attempt to meet one of their best player’s demands.
  • Perhaps Salata is ‘testing the water’ with a move to Serbia in the thought that he will soon be moving to a more ‘foreign’ European country in the not too distant future.  Frantisek Kubik [who spoke no Dutch or English on arrival at Den Haag] please give him a call!!
  • If Kubik doesn’t call Salata, someone else please do.  I understand that each European football team employs scouts to look for decent players in the lesser regions of European football.  If you’re seriously telling me that no team in the Eredivisie, Bundesliga, Russian, Turkish, Greek or Italian league is willing to at least give a trial to Kornel Salata then why oh why is he even bothering leaving his own country????

I absolutely love Slovak football, and I have no problem to see players who are developed through youth systems in Slovakia leave for more fruitful pastures elsewhere in European football.  Anybody who saw Kornel Salata line up alongside Martin Skrtel in Slovakia’s 0-1 victory away against Russia cannot fail to have been impressed,  we are talking about a decent player here.  I just question why, oh why is he considering a move to Crvena Zvezda????

Answers below please …

13 responses so far

Dec 21 2010

Introducing Dundee United’s Slovak Goalkeepers

Published by under Guest

There are quite a few decent Slovak keepers around at the moment and Dundee United have got two of them.  Andy Hudson went on a wintery northbound mission and was hoping to see three Slovaks in action in the same match as Dušan Perniš would inevitably be replaced by Filip Mentel in the Dundee United goal after bringing down Vladimir Weiss of Rangers.  In spite of the postponement and being the top bloke that he is, Andy spoke to a few fans and even managed to nab a quick interview with the Tangerine’s two Slovak goalkeepers:

There’s a new hero on Tannadice Street and he’s a long way from his home town of Nitra. In a little less than 12 months Dusan Pernis has established himself as Dundee United’s most consistent performer, one of the highest rated players outside of the Old Firm and the new darling of the Arab fans. Dusan started his career off at ZTS Dubnica before moving to MSK. Winning his first international cap in August 2009 against Iceland, he has since moved to Scotland, won the Scottish FA Cup and been a squad member of the Slovak World Cup squad.

But Dusan has new competition for the number 1 shirt. And the gloves at Dundee United are most definitely white, blue and red with the addition of Bratislava born Filip Mental to the playing squad during pre-season 2010. In a short career that has taken him from Inter Bratislava’s youth team to Dundee United via Manchester City, Filip is yet to make a first team start but comes from good stock: his father, Miroslav Mental, is the current Slovak goalkeeping coach and he has represented the national side at every age level from Under-15 to Under-21s. Before signing for the Arabs he had the pick of a number of clubs, turning down the likes of Legia Warsaw to continue his career in the UK.

I was due to watch Dusan in action for United against Rangers. Unfortunately the snow had other ideas and the match was postponed. Instead of watching him keep the Scottish champions at bay I had to sit in a bar listening to fans wax lyrical about him. “We’ll struggle to keep hold of him beyond this season” said one while another believes that “we definitely won’t be able to keep him…he’s the best ‘keeper in the SPL.”

Perniš holds the Scottish Cup aloft

Amidst the snow and postponed football matches I caught up with United’s Slovak goalkeeping stars for a quick chat about Slovak football.

Dušan Perniš

What team did you support growing up in Slovakia?

Probably Dubnica.

Zilina supporters remember the great game against Aston Villa in the UEFA Cup back in Dec 2008. What memories do you have of it and was it your best moment as a MSK player?

Of course I have only the best memories; we won away from home when nobody expected it.

Dušan Perniš makes a crucial late save at Villa Park

How would you rate the Slovak and Scottish leagues? Not just on the pitch but off it too, the fans, facilities, stadiums etc?

People in Scotland are more interested in football. Whole families want to go and watch the matches and that’s the biggest difference.

There’s an idea being talked about at the moment about merging the Slovak and Czech leagues. What do you think about that?

A joint league would definitely improve the quality of football and would be of benefit to both countries but personally I don’t think it’s realistic.

What has been the greatest moment of your football career so far?

Everything in football has had some value for me. I don’t rate them in order.

What Slovak cake would you recommend for our English speaking readers to try?

It would have to be babovka.

Babovka - especially for Andrew Gibney at @gibfootballshow

Filip Mentel

What team did you support growing up in Slovakia?

Inter Bratislava.

How would you rate the Slovak and Scottish leagues? Not just on the pitch but off it too, the fans, facilities, stadiums etc?

The Scottish league has a more solid footing. People here live for football. The quality of the league is also better here in my opinion. [oh dear - Ed]

@HuddoHudson sharpens his photography skills

Before signing for Manchester City you were at Inter Bratislava. How did the transfer to Man City come about?

I was scouted by Man City while playing for Slovakia’s youth team.

What did you think when Inter merged with FK Senica?

It’s sad that a team like Inter has disappeared from football pitches. But on the other hand I do respect Senica who have 100% replaced Inter’s good quality team.

What do you think about Slovan playing at Inter’s ground, Štadión Pasienky?

In my opinion it is not good when the club that has historically been the best plays on the ground of their city rivals. They definitely deserve their own stadium.

There’s an idea being talked about at the moment about merging the Slovak and Czech leagues. What do you think about that?

This would be a step forward. Matches like Slovan – Sparta or Banik – Trnava or similar would be fantastic.

Apart from you, what other Slovak youngsters should we watch out for over the next few years?

We have a lot of good quality young footballers but because I haven’t been in Slovakia for a long time I don’t know them.

What has been the greatest moment of your football career so far?

Transferring to Dundee United after being out of football for 2 years due to injury.

How much of an influence is Dusan on your football now you are both playing for Dundee United?

Of course we are in competition but we also have a good friendship and that says it all.

Great work Andy, hopefully you’ll get to the rematch!  In the meantime, Andy is all over European football, with a particular interest in fan ownership.  Andy has written some superb articles recently for the award winning European Football Weekends, the unmissable In Bed With Maradona and runs his own excellent blog, Gannin’ Away.

2 responses so far

Dec 19 2010

The Winter Break – looked at from a Slovak perspective

Published by under Domestic

Following the large number of postponements in all the English leagues yesterday, I’m now awaiting the inevitable calls for football in the country to take a winter break. As someone who was raised on the English game and loves its traditions, I have my objections ready.

Firstly, you never know just when the English winter is going to be at its worst. Sometimes, this year for example, it’s bad in December. In other years, January is more severe. Quite often, England doesn’t have a winter at all, at least not as people from seriously cold countries like Slovakia would understand the word winter. Secondly, some of the best footballing occasions in England take place during the year’s coldest period. Boxing Day football, for example, is extremely popular, especially at non-league level, where many clubs draw much bigger crowds than normal. Then, there’s the FA Cup 3rd round in early January, traditionally one of the most eagerly anticipated weekends in the calendar. Finally, you just know that if there was a winter break in England, clubs like Manchester United or Chelsea would book the first available flight to a hot country where there’s money to be made by playing meaningless friendlies, taking part in celebrity style photo shoots in the latest kit (you can almost guarantee that a new one would be introduced in time for the season’s spring phase) or other such activities designed to ‘develop the brand in a new market’.

Still, the English game would be wise not to dismiss the notion of a break altogether. One reason for saying this is that English winters could well get worse. A convincing climate change theory is that the Gulf Stream might weaken. If that happens, England will regularly experience continental winters, thus rendering football and other such sports more difficult to stage than they are now. But that is surely a problem for the longer term. For now, I believe the biggest problem with the English game is not so much winter football ; it’s that there are just too many matches across the whole season. If there were no more than 24 teams in any one league and a cup competition were scrapped, the calendar could cope with two or three postponements at this time of year and, if the weather did hold up, the much-loved Boxing Day fixture could continue.

Here in Slovakia, of course, there is little debate. Snow and freezing temperatures can be pretty much guaranteed in this country. There are winters where early December or late February football is just about possible at the higher levels but even those are exceptional. As a result, keen followers of the Slovak game are reduced to spending the cold months wondering which spa centre their club plans to take its players to for winter ‘conditioning’, or following transfer rumours, such as (to take the latest MŠK Žilina gossip) Zdeno Štrba‘s possible return to the ranks after 18 months playing in Greece. Compared with actual football, it’s not much to get excited about so you really do need another hobby!

A long winter break actually leads to a different kind of football culture. For a start, the notion of ‘autumn champions’, the unofficial title held by the club which goes into the break at the top of the league, is quite prominent in Slovakia. Another curiosity lies in the fact that the winter break is almost twice as long as the close-season one. As a consequence, there do seem to be more transfers during winter than during summer. Last season, for example, Senica changed not only their coach (which is not unusual at any time) but also most of their squad during the winter.

Curiosities aside, Slovak football, just like its English counterpart, would do well to consider changes to the way the season runs. One problem here is that pitches are often not ready for football by the time the spring phase of the season is due to start. This season, the first round of spring fixtures is scheduled for February 26th but it is highly possible that snow will still be covering the playing surfaces then, or that we will be in the midst of a thaw, which could lead to waterlogging. As a result of such factors, there have been years where these early spring games have had to be postponed for at least a week.

In addition, Slovak football does not take full advantage of one period when conditions are totally amenable to the game, ie late May-mid July, the time of the traditional close-season. This has led me to the idea that a spring-autumn model might work better in this country than the autumn-spring one. If the change was made, and it would be a momentous one for sure, the season could start in the middle of March and end in late November, as the current autumn phase does. Groundsmen would find this difficult as, under the present arrangements, many reseed their clubs’ pitches as soon as the last games have been played in May. And actually making the change, as well as arrangements regarding European competitions, would present logistical barriers. On the plus side, there would be seven and a half months of uninterrupted football at times when favourable conditions can (just about) be guaranteed. The fans would probably be happy. I can personally attest that watching a Corgoň Liga or (better still) Champions League qualifying game on a July evening is an utterly pleasurable, civilised experience which almost compensates for the lack of Boxing Day action. If such enjoyment could be had in June as well, so much the better.

Still, whatever we might wish for, I don’t foresee major changes, in either England or Slovakia, at least not in the immediate future. Boxing Day football will go on in England, which I’m happy about, but the leagues won’t be reduced in size, meaning that fixture backlogs, especially for lower-league sides, will continue to cause difficulties. The question of a winter break will be raised, perhaps discussed in a certain amount of detail, and then shelved until the next bout of severe weather comes along. In Slovakia, a spring-autumn season won’t be given even cursory consideration. Part of my justification for introducing the model would have been that Russia currently uses it and it seems to work reasonably well there. But this week it emerged that Russia would actually like to join most of the rest of Europe in following the autumn-spring model. That probably makes the already remote chance that the people running Slovak football might realise they are missing a trick even slimmer.

James Baxter

10 responses so far

Dec 09 2010

Zilina v Spartak Moscow: Controversy Rules

Published by under European

Well, I guess nobody wanted Zilina’s Champions League adventure to end like this.  Following Slovak football, we’re never short of talking points. Zilina fan James Baxter witnessed a very unsavoury night at the Stadion Pod Dubnom and I’m delighted to post his report from the game exclusively here on Britski Belasi:

What happened on the field in Žilina last night was fairly insignificant but the evening does raise one or two questions. First, was there really no better choice of 2018 World Cup hosts than Russia? Second, what on earth is the point of having six match-officials?

Regarding the first question, after the Birmingham City-Aston Villa league cup semi-final last week had ended in crowd violence, the English media were asking whether the incidents would have any late bearing on England’s 2018 World Cup bid. The question could be seen as pointless, even motivated by self-interest, but I do think there was an attempt there to understand how outsiders might view certain aspects of English football culture. I trust that, following the antics of a section of Spartak Moscow fans in Žilina, there’ll be similar hand-wringing in the Russian media. There should even be a certain sense of relief that the trouble came too late to harm Russia’s bid.

The bare facts are that there was sporadic fighting before last night’s match and that, just three minutes into the game itself, play was held up for around 25 minutes because visiting fans were throwing flares. Some people believe that flares add greatly to the atmosphere at football matches. I respect that view but don’t pretend to understand it ;  flares are burning, explosive objects that can be especially lethal among large, concentrated groups of people. Those who throw them are showing a lack of consideration for the safety of others, those who throw them in the direction of players of their own side, as at least one Spartak fan did, need their brains checking.

Spartak Moscow fans fireworks display

While the players were off the field, some visiting fans attacked stewards and even started threatening the poor ball-boys. It was all pretty unsavoury and unpleasant. Hopefully, it will be publicised, as the Blues-Villa trouble was, and people will be aware that the country chosen to host the big event in 2018 is one that still has an unsolved hooligan problem. After all, if Russian fans can cause a meaningless Champions League game to be delayed, you dread to think what they might get up to on their own soil when large numbers of visitors from all over the world are around for a major tournament. No doubt, police and security officials on duty at last night’s game will come in for criticism. They almost certainly made mistakes but were not the cause of the trouble, since a number of away fans were clearly intent on it.

Zilina stewards flee rampaging Spartak fans / English students

After all that, a discussion of match officials seems fairly trivial. To be fair, the referee’s action in taking the players off the pitch was entirely sensible as was bringing them back on when he did. The remaining 87 minutes were, after all, played out in relative calm.  My problem, trifling though it is, is that three officials can’t seem to spot at close-range what I can clearly see from 80 yards. There was an absolutely blatant handball by Alex last night which kept a Spartak attack going. It was on the edge of the Žilina penalty area and Alex’s hand was above his head. I find it hard to credit that the referee and linesman didn’t see it but, even if they didn’t, the goal-line official must have. If he didn’t, or if he did but didn’t have the authority to draw the referee’s attention to the offence, what’s he doing there? It isn’t the first time Žilina have been on the wrong end of a non-decision from a goal-line official either. Remember the foul on Ceesay in the opening minutes of the Marseille away game? These extra officials are nothing but a waste of time and money.

As for the game itself, well (Lenka informs me) it was perfectly summed up by Milan Lesický, one of the wise old men of Slovak football, in his post-match analysis for TV : ‘Žilina did all they could, Spartak did all they needed to.’ Spartak’s ball-retention was eye-catchingly effortless during the first-half but they created few real chances except from a couple of Aiden McGeady crosses. Both coaches made a half-time substitution. Pavel Hapal’s was probably a tacit admission that he’d made an error in his starting line-up.  Pavol Poliaček, a youngster who’s shown flickers of promise but hasn’t yet performed consistently over 90 minutes, was replaced on the left of midfield by Emil Rilke. Valerij Karpin’s change was close to genius. He took off lone-striker Kozlov, pushed Alex forward from attacking midfield and Ibson from the holding position. Drinčič, the substitute, played in the position vacated by Ibson. Six minutes after Majtán had headed Žilina in front, a perfectly weighted long pass from Drinčič sent Alex clear to equalise. That goal also demonstrated a recurring shortcoming in the Žilina defence ; the tendency to leave vast open spaces for attackers to run into. Moscow’s second was another gift, again accepted without fuss. McGeady intercepted a poor pass out of the home defence and advanced before finding Alex, whose unselfish first-time pass was easily converted by Ibson. There was time for an encouraging cameo from Ceesay, on in place of the injured Jež, and for Mr Blom to rather harshly deem that an Ibson challenge on Rilke was deserving of a straight red card. Even with the Russian side down to 10 men, it was clear that, in their inability to hold a lead or even maintain equality, Žilina had lost their best chance of earning a positive result. They never gave up but the quality simply wasn’t there.

As a summing-up of Žilina’s whole Champions League campaign, Lesický’s words can’t be bettered. When the players have done all they could, they still haven’t been (quite) good enough. When they haven’t done all they could (at home to Marseille) they’ve been humiliated. They talk about learning lessons from the whole experience. Hopefully, they’ll have the chance to show what they’ve absorbed in next season’s competition.

MSK Zilina: back next season?

More importantly, and in the nearer future, I’ll be very interested in what, if anything, happens to Spartak and the idiots who, in the name of that club, made yesterday evening a rather miserable one for more than a few people.

Spartak players plea for calm

Photos from http://www.facebook.com/mskzilina

10 responses so far

Dec 07 2010

MSK Zilina v Spartak Moscow Preview

Published by under European

The competition is stiff but tomorrow’s game between MŠK Žilina and Spartak Moscow is surely a prime candidate for ‘most meaningless fixture of the Champions League group stage’. Spartak already know that they will be entering the UEFA Cup in February, while Žilina know that their whole European adventure is over. The match does not even have any relevance to the clubs‘ respective domestic campaigns. The Russian league season is over, the Slovak version has gone into its three-month hibernation period. It could be argued that February run-outs against the likes of Lučenec will be of more ultimate significance to Žilina than the meeting with Spartak.

Still, UEFA, presumably aware that plenty of pointless football is played in their supposedly elite competition but wanting to offer at least some incentives to encourage teams to take the games seriously, hand out cash bonuses for group stage wins and draws. Whether the prospect of a million extra Euros in the club’s coffers will see MŠK fans celebrating in Marianské Square till long into tomorrow night should their side defeat the Russians remains to be seen. But the evidence thus far suggests that interest in the game is limited. Žilina’s marketing manager confirmed today that fewer than 7,000 tickets have been sold and it’s difficult to imagine an awful lot more being shifted before kick-off.

I feel that Britski Belasi has covered the ups (not that there have been many) and downs of Žilina’s Champions League campaign in plenty of detail so I won’t go over old ground. If only for the sake of the money, but perhaps for a bit of ‚closure‘ too, I would expect Pavel Hapal to play his strongest available side tomorrow night. All his players are fit except Štefan Zošák, who probably wouldn’t have started the game but would have been a handy substitute with his ability to fill any midfield position. Lubomir Guldan’s accomplished recent performances in the midfield holding role should see him retain his place behind the more attacking duo of Robert Jež and Issiaka Bello in a 4-1-4-1 formation. Hapal says that the mood in his squad has been positively influenced by the fact that yesterday was St Nicholas’s day. Cynics would no doubt respond that seasonal generosity will need to stop if Žilina really do want to finally earn a positive group stage result.

While there was never any real expectation that Žilina would advance to the knockout rounds, Spartak will surely be disappointed with the decline in their fortunes over the course of the group stage. A surprise win in Marseille and an easy one at home to Žilina put them on maximum points after two games but home and away losses to Chelsea saw their momentum stall and they were then decisively beaten in the shoot-out for second place at home to the French side. With Ari injured and Welliton suspended, they will not be at their strongest tomorrow. They seem to be approaching the game with the utmost seriousness however, and were at a training-camp in Hungary for several days before travelling up to Žilina

As well as praising the spirit within his squad, Hapal is positive about the state of the Štadión pod Dubňom’s playing surface, saying it’s not only playable but should even be conducive to good football. That really is a tribute to the Žilina ground staff who have had to cope with days of freezing temperatures, a sudden thaw over the last 36 hours or so and the fact that both squads, in accordance with UEFA regulations, have to be granted access to the pitch for training purposes. Partly in the interests of journalistic research and partly because I was at the club shop near the ground in pursuit of Christmas presents, I had a quick look at the pitch through an open corner of the ground today and I can support Hapal’s sentiments ; it looked absolutely fine. Given this, and despite the undeniable meaninglessness of the occasion, 90 minutes of reasonable entertainment shouldn’t be too much to ask.

James Baxter

2 responses so far

Dec 05 2010

Slovakia: Review of the season so far

Published by under Domestic

One thing the SFZ and organisers of Slovak football do seem to have got right is the timing of the winter break!

As Slovakia is gripped by the big freeze seemingly prevalent right across Europe, James Baxter is here to offer his thoughts on the season so far; one of relatively few surprises and worrying times for one of Slovakia’s most-liked football teams:

There will be no domestic football in Slovakia until February 26th at the very earliest so it seems an opportune time to review what we’ve seen in the first four-and-a-half months or so of the Corgoň Liga’s 2010-2011 season.

It is no great surprise to find reigning champions MŠK Žilina at the top of the domestic table. It wouldn’t have taken an expert either to forecast that Banská Bystrica and Spartak Trnava would be among the chasing pack. And it is sad, but hardly unexpected, that the ever-likeable Dubnica find themselves right at the bottom of the league. On the other hand, few would have predicted that Slovan Bratislava would be languishing in mid-table, 12 points behind the leaders, or that Senica would be in second place, ahead of both Bystrica and Trnava.

Žilina, and I speak as a fan of theirs, have been prosaic at times this season. They do have considerable resilience, a quality demonstrated by the fact that they are unbeaten at home despite having fallen behind in five of their nine home games. Another two matches at pod Dubňom have finished as 0-0 draws. They score more freely away from home, putting five goals past Dubnica and four each past Košice and Zlaté Moravce. In fact, defeat at Senica two weeks ago is the only major blemish on Žilina’s away record so far.

Senica and Trnava have been in or around the top four since the season started in mid-July. Both have experienced, pragmatic coaches, in Stanislava Griga and Dušan Radolský respectively, and both are solid defensively. Indeed, Trnava have the league’s best goals-against record. With a little more creativity and/or sense of adventure, either of these sides could yet get closer to Žilina next spring. Bystrica tend to be more attractive to watch. Prompted by Viktor Pečovský, an excellent passer of the ball, in midfield and with a stable of promising young strikers, they are the Slovak league’s current ‘form side’, having won their last four games.

With Slovan, it is not difficult to find reasons why they should be closer to the top of the league. Their central defensive pair, Kornel Saláta and Radek Dosoudil, have had a lot of success together, having won the title at both Petržalka (2008) and Slovan (2009). Karim Guéde is a physical, skillful presence in midfield and Filip Šebo and Juraj Halenár are both proven goalscorers on the Slovak scene. There are plenty of promising youngsters too, not least Under-21 internationals Erik Grendel and Marek Kuzma. In fact, I often think that the Slovan squad is, potentially at least, the strongest in the league.

Yet reasons why Slovan are not doing too well are not difficult to find either. Off-field instability is clearly a factor. For a start, the club has had a ridiculous six coaches since winning the league just eighteen months ago. More importantly still, Slovan do not have a ground to call their own and have been playing to ever-dwindling crowds at the ever-soulless Pasienky, right in the shadow of their traditional home, Tehelné pole. On the pitch, Saláta has been out of form for much of the autumn and Halenár does not seem to have regained sharpness following a long-term injury. There have been rumours too of a conflict between him and current coach Karel Jarolím. Also (and this is a purely subjective view), Putnocký in the Slovan goal is hardly a confidence-inspiring figure. All in all, spring will be an interesting period at the Bratislava club. If they can get it right, though, a European place is far from an impossibility.

Vion Zlaté Moravce will be delighted to be just one point behind Slovan. The newly-promoted side have suffered a little from inconsistency but have looked an assured outfit when I’ve seen them ‘in the flesh’. Their captain, midfielder Peter Kuračka, is a skillful player who leads by example and, overall, it’s difficult to see the side going on a run bad enough to pull them towards the lower reaches of the table.

DAC Dunajská Streda have had an eventful autumn. They were awful at the start of the season before pulling themselves together and embarking on a long unbeaten  run that raised hopes of a challenge for a European place. Limp performances in the last two games, both of which looked winnable, have deflated those expectations somewhat and now Michal Gašparík, by many accounts the creative force behind the team’s best performances, looks to be on his way to Slovan. But if DAC can hold on to Pavol Kováč, arguably the best goalkeeper in the Corgoň Liga, they should at least remain solid in 2011.

Nitra and Ružomberok will be disappointed with their campaigns so far. In Ivan Galád and Ladislav Jurkemík, both started the season with a proven, experienced coach. Jurkemík lost his job at Ružomberok at the end of October but his successor, Goran Milojevič, has fared little better, though the side continue to play attractive football. Nitra were a little more patient with Galád, waiting until the week prior to the last game of the autumn before sending him ‚on holiday‘. His replacement, Ivan Vrabec, then inspired his charges to an unexpected 2-1 win away to Vion, raising the question of whether Galád will ever return.

Below Ružomberok, we find the Eastern Slovak duo of Košice and Prešov. Košice’s poor form since July has been a virtual  repeat of what they produced in the autumn of 2009. They will be hoping that the turnaround they achieved last spring will also be replicated. Meanwhile, a 4-0 win over their neighbours last weekend will have raised spirits ahead of the break. Prešov have a major battle on their hands if they are to put space between themselves and the relegation place. An excellent performance in an unlucky defeat at Žilina in September showed that they can be a decent side, but they clearly haven’t produced that sort of form often enough.

In 12th and last place, things are looking grim for Dubnica, a club who rely on selling their best players just to stay financially afloat. Year after year they have a team full of talented young players but some of the current crop do not quite look ready for the level of football they find themselves playing. Some heavy defeats have been suffered, including successive 4-0 hammerings at Trnava and at home to Vion. A 0-0 draw in the mud at DAC last week at least suggests that Dubnica’s heart is still beating. Their aim will be to stay in touch with the sides above them through March in the hope that their passing football will produce victories when the pitches get better come April and May.

Predictions for spring are not easy at the moment, not least because several players will probably change clubs before the season starts again. However, given their six-point lead and the fact that their Champions League income should allow them to strengthen still further, it is difficult to imagine Žilina not retaining the title. And, while I would love to see Dubnica stay up, the noises coming out of that club regarding money are so pessimistic it’s impossible not to fear for them. They’ve done a lot for the game in Slovakia with their development of young talent so I really do hope they survive.

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Dec 01 2010

AS Trencin v MFK Zemplin Michalovce

Published by under Domestic,Guest

Here at Britski Belasi, we try our best to cover all aspects of Slovak football, and what better way to draw domestic on-the-field matters for 2010 to a close than with a report from the 1st Division from Brno-based Ralph Davies?  Ralph is a big fan of FC Zbrojovka Brno in the Czech Republic as well as the Welsh National team who he follows throughout Europe.  Last weekend Ralph braved the cold and headed over the border to Trencin to sample some genuine Slovak music & football.  I’m delighted to post his account from Trencin here on the blog, and Ralph mentions a couple of names worth looking out for in the future – including possibly yet another in the seemingly endless supply of talented Slovak goalkeepers!

I had already made up my mind to go and see Zilina’s finest indie rockers The Swan Bride at the legendary Klub Luc on the Friday, so when I was told that I could also spend the  early part of Saturday afternoon watching 2nd Division Slovak football, I didn’t have to think twice about about driving across the border  from Brno to Trencin.

The Friday evening passed without a single sighting of an AS Trencin fan and with no footballing interest from my hosts for the weekend .   So, I headed out  into the cold to the delightful Štadión na Sihoti for the clash against 5th placed MFK Zemplin Michalovce.  The  first thing you notice about the stadium are the classic Eastern European floodlights, the €2.50 ticket was worth the money just for a closer look at the lights to be perfectly honest.  They are best described by the undisputed masters of this kind of business European Football Weekends and The Ball is Round as being ‘giraffe-like’ or ‘lollipop floodlights’  .. they really are.

After  17 games,  AS Trencin are 10pts clear of FC Petrzalka in the 2nd Division and looking for a return to the top flight. Michalovce are in 5th place and now managed by Vlastimil Petrzela who is as famous for his time spent at the roulette wheel as he is for his talents as a football coach. I have to say that I had no previous knowledge of the Eastern Slovakian side and was surprised to see him take his place in the away dugout. Previously he had managed both Sparta and Slavia and led Zenit St Petersburg to 2nd place in the Russian league. His return to Czech Republic had seen him coach both Sigma Olomouc and Viktoria Zizkov to midtable mediocrity. I wish him all the luck at Michalovce.

The last time I watched a game in minus temperatures,  I remember for several reasons- that grog is no replacement for Bovril, that my mate Chris was so cold that he asked he could borrow one of my gloves and that Zbrojovka Brno scored 3 goals at home for the first time in 2 seasons.  As both teams took to the artificial pitch, I just hoped I would survive the artic weather conditions and maybe see a goal or two.

In the opening  10 minutes, Trencin could have been 2 nil up, both chances falling to Argentinian forward, Depetris.  However , the highly talented 16yr old Miloslav Breda in the Michalovce goal was equal to anything the Trencin forward line could fire in at him. Finally, in the 27th minute the pressure on Zemplin’s goal finally told. A freekick was awarded on the corner of the area after a foul on the irrepressible Adi. Hovarth hit a cross into the box, which completely missed everbody and ended up in the Michalovce goal. A much deserved 1-0 lead. And  5 minutes later it was 2-0,Slovak U21 Filip Hlohovsky played a ball towards the penalty spot, Adi headed the ball down into the path of Samuel Stefanik who sent an unstoppable half-volley into the roof on the net. If there had been any away fans there, they surely would have been fearing a repeat of the 5-1 drubbing they received at home in August.

Step forward Filip Sencerin, a forward on loan from Kosice , who clearly had other ideas. Within 7 minutes he had brought his team level.  In 34th minute, Michalovce were awarded a free-kick outside the area, the ball was touched to Sencerin who smacked it into the top corner of the Trencin net.  Minutes later he weaved his way into the penalty box and fired a ball into 6yrd box where Brazillian Jonathan Bernando Mariano was waiting to pounce. 2-2 and game on. Minutes later it could have been 3-2, once again Sencerin finding space to fire a shot just wide of the goal. Trencin needed the half-time whistle and I needed a hot drink and a half-time sausage. I am sure I heard the relief around the ground when the referee blew for half time.Some fans headed for the warmth of Pub Kozel,  I went for a closer inspection of the floodlights.

The best chances  at the beginning of the 2nd half fell to Michalovce, but it was Trencin who finally found the net again in 53rd minute.  Adi controlled and turned neatly on the edge of the box, before shooting low into the bottom corner -3-2.  As Michalovce bombed forward in search of an equaliser, gaps appeared in there defence and further chances were missed by the Trencin front 2.  Sencerin could have scored again for Michalovce, however he just lacked the composure needed in front of goal and quite possibly this is the reason why Kosice have sent him out on loan. Remember the name, as I am absolutely sure we will hear more about him in the future.  The home side had clear chances in the final minutes, but Adi’s goal proved to be the winner in an entertaining game.

Overall, I was impressed with the standard of the league. Having spent the season watching Brno languishing at the bottom of the Gambrinus liga, I wasn’t expecting to see an open game of football in the second tier of the Slovak league. Vlastimil Petrzela stated that it was the best his side had played all season and that it had been a „beautiful game“ for 729 fans that braved the cold. Who am I to argue?

Top stuff Ralph, look forward to travelling the other way over the border in the not too distant future, hopefully when it’s a tad warmer too!

You can follow Ralph on Twitter!

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