Archive for February, 2011

Feb 27 2011

Pernis v Kello : Slovaks keeping Scotland honest ..

Published by under Guest

I am pretty sure that fans of Slovak football will agree that this kind of article is what makes our blog tick; Andy Hudson, friend of the site, football traveller and all-round good bloke, travelled to Hearts v Dundee United and offered  to check out the Marian Kello v Dusan Pernis Slovak goalkeeping rivalry exclusively for Britski Belasi:

It was the battle of the Slovak number ones; two players who have been vital for their teams this season and who are now battling it out to heap pressure on the national team’s incumbent of the goalkeeping jersey, Jan Mucha. This battle wasn’t being played out in Slovakia though. It wasn’t even being played out in Eastern Europe. The battlefield was on the Gorgy Road in Edinburgh; the location was Tynecastle Stadium and Dusan Pernis’ Dundee United had travelled to the Scottish capital to take on Marian Kello’s Heart of Midlothian.

Kello, who won his first cap in the recent international against Luxembourg, has been in fantastic form over the last few months and has been one of the reasons why Hearts find themselves comfortably in third place; until consecutive defeats against the two teams above them, Celtic and Rangers, they even held hopes of gatecrashing the Old Firm’s grip on the table. The national team head coach Vladimir Weiss has been due to watch Kello, who at the time had kept six clean sheets out of the previous seven games, in December but the big freeze in the UK scuppered that plan.

Pernis was omitted from Weiss’ squad for the foggy game in Luxembourg, having previously been a member of the World Cup party and capped 3 times. During his first year in Scotland he was instrumental in Dundee United winning the Scottish FA Cup, consistently delivering top notch performances.

It was Kello who started as the busier Slovak on a cold Tynecastle day. Within five minutes he was picking the ball out of the net following a right wing United corner. Hesitating amongst a stuttering defence, Kello was beaten at his near post by a deft flick only for the referee to disallow the ‘goal’ due to some minor pushing. It wasn’t long before Kello was beaten again and this time there was no referee turning saviour. A right wing cross was met with a looping header from 9 yards out and Kello, caught in no-man’s land between his line and the forward, could only throw himself backwards as the ball casually arced over him and into the top corner of the goal.

Hearts came back into the game after falling behind but found Pernis in great form saving from Skacel when the forward was one-on-one and making a good save low down from an edge-of-the-box shot. Both ‘keepers noticeably instructed their defence to keep shape, especially Pernis who saw his captain, and United’s only fit centre back, limp off injured during the first half.

Throughout the match Pernis displayed great kicking and United launched a number of attacks as a result of their keeper hitting it long and accurate. Kello, after the poor start, proved to be quick off his line and confident with crosses.

The two Slovaks were crucial to the final score of 2-1 to Hearts. On the stroke of half-time Pernis spilled a tame shot straight to Skacel who stroked in the equaliser. The original shot had come from the right edge of the United box and Pernis, although down comfortably to collect the ball, allowed it to slip from his grasp; surprisingly considering the lack of pace on the shot. Hearts scored the winner with two minutes remaining when a Zaliukas header gave Pernis not chance.

However, the real drama was still to come. Deep in injury time the referee awarded a penalty to United. There were seconds remaining; the away side needed to convert to have a real chance of using their games in hand to catch up with Hearts in the table. But Hearts have Marian Kello. The penalty was hit firm; Kello’s palm, stretching upwards, proved firmer and won the points for his side.

At the final whistle it was Pernis who reached Kello first; little was said over a brief handshake. Kello believes he can improve as a player and be recognised further by his country and Pernis won’t give up his place in the national team without a fight. It was the Hearts man who came out on top this time but with both ‘keepers amongst the top three in Scotland it’s a fight that has plenty of running time left.

Andy Hudson is on Twitter, oh yes; follow him!  RIGHT HERE

Andy is also an inspirational groundhopper; he does grounds, he does them hard, and he ALWAYS  writes them up:  check out his blog, GANNIN’ AWAY

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Feb 24 2011

Corgon Liga Spring Season Preview

Published by under Domestic

So, the start of the Slovak Corgoň Liga’s spring phase is almost upon us. Perhaps the word ‘spring’ needs to be qualified just a little first. True, Slovakia is currently enjoying clear skies, sunshine and longer days. Temperatures, by contrast, are not suggestive of spring ; it was -15 in Žilina this morning. This, of course, raises the question of whether the season will indeed resume on schedule, especially if we also consider the fact that most Slovak stadiums do not have undersoil heating. It is not unusual for football in Slovakia to be played in adverse conditions but players and groundsmen alike will certainly hope that enough of that daytime sunshine gets to the pitches to ensure that the games, if they do go ahead, will not be spoiled by rock-hard surfaces. Anyway, let’s assume for now that we will have some football to watch this weekend, and preview the fixtures accordingly.

Spartak Trnava v Slovan Bratislava has understandably been chosen by Digisport as their first live league game of the year and, as such, will kick off at 1730 on Friday. The atmosphere off the pitch will doubtless be highly-charged. If the fans of both sides stick to what they do best – producing colour and noise – and forget about the violence, it should be a fine occasion. On the playing side, Trnava have a growing injury list, with Ľubomír Bernáth and Issa Koro-Kone likely to be among the absentees. Slovan coach Karel Jarolím, meanwhile, seems relaxed about his team’s 2-0 friendly defeat to Slavia Prague last weekend. The home side’s selection problems and their own disappointing autumn mean that Slovan should really be going for the win here to give early impetus to their spring campaign.

Saturday sees leaders Žilina travel to relegation-threatened Prešov. The eastern Slovak side were well beaten in their last friendly, away to Honvéd of Hungary, and will need an improvement if they hope to take points off their visitors. But Žilina never find Prešov easy opponents and have a few minor concerns of their own, notably a shortage of central defenders and uncertainty over their best attacking combination. There is little doubt, however, that exciting new striker Robert Pich will have an important part to play.

Ružomberok v Nitra is a clash of two autumn under-achievers. Ružomberok’s problems appear to be the more enduring. The most serious of them concerns cash-flow ; the players have not always been paid on time over the last few months. And there has been little relief on the field, with three successive friendlies having been lost, all to Czech opposition. Coach Goran Milojevič was critical of his side’s ‘lack of fight and running’ in the first-half of the latest defeat, to Baník Ostrava. Nitra look a little more solid. Their players are presumably now used to the methods of Ivan Vrabec, who replaced Ivan Galád as coach in November, and should be looking to climb the table over the next few weeks.

While Trnava v Slovan will not be rivalled for atmosphere in the stands, Senica (in 2nd place) v Banská Bystrica (in 3rd),  is arguably a more attractive prospect in playing terms. Both coaches have expressed satisfaction with their sides’ most recent friendly performances. Senica’s Stanislav Griga, who oversaw a 2-0 win over a young Brno side last Saturday, was especially happy with his attack, while Bystrica’s Štefan Zat´ko seemed to enjoy his team‘s 0-0 draw against ‘high-quality’ opponents MTK Budapešť. If either side emerges victorious from this Saturday’s game, and Žilina drop points in Prešov, the title race will start to look genuinely interesting.

The big relegation clash of the weekend is Dubnica v Košice. I was almost ready to write off bottom side Dubnica in November but interesting winter signings in experienced goalkeeper Pavol Kováč, from Dunajská Streda, and striker Marek Kuzma, returning to the club on loan from Slovan, promise better things. Košice, meanwhile, hope to bring in tall Bosnian forward Nusmir Fajič. He has won an international cap and is believed by coach Štefan Tarkovič to be the finisher Košice need to replace the departed Ján Novák.

The late Saturday game is between two clubs who had better autumns than most observers expected. DAC Dunajská Streda did go into the break looking a little flat, however, and need to freshen up somewhat if coach Mikulaš Radványi’s verdict on last weekend’s 0-0 draw with third-tier Pezinok is to be believed. ‚I wasn’t satisfied with our movement,‘ said Radványi. ‘I hoped I’d know what side to send into the first league game but this performance hasn’t made me any wiser.’ His opposite number, Vion Zlaté Moravce coach Juraj Jarábek, approaches Saturday’s game in a more positive frame of mind. He was pleased with Vion’s last outing, a 3-2 win over Liptovský Mikuláš, reserving particular praise for his new signings, Martin Doležal from Sigma Olomouc and Adam Žilák, on loan from Žilina.

All this weekend‘s games, then, would seem to have something to offer and are unpredictable enough that there’ll be no forecasts from me. After such a long break, I just hope they are played and that those who brave the cold enjoy them. Prešov is probably just a bit too far for me to go so I may well head for Dubnica. Both the home team and Košice have plenty to play for and it will be a chance to spy on the next two visitors to Žilina.

James Baxter

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Feb 19 2011

Vladimir Weiss talks to Šport

Published by under Uncategorized

We should probably be turning our attentions to next weekend’s resumption of the Corgoň Liga and I would have been all too happy to do so but for the publication in today’s Šport of a rather fascinating interview with Slovak national team coach Vladimir Weiss Senior.

The background to the interview is, of course, Slovakia’s embarrassing loss to Luxembourg ten days ago. The banner headline on the front of the paper reads ‘Weiss didn’t leave the house for three days’, a reference to the coach’s point that, unlike his players, he couldn’t simply board a plane, go back to his club and get the defeat out of his system. With Slovakia not in action again until late March, when a Euro 2012 qualifier in Andorra might be followed by a home friendly with Denmark, Weiss has plenty of time to go over what went wrong in Luxembourg and consider possible solutions. He insists that, although those three days after the last game were tough, he retains the appetite to do that.

Yet certain matters continue to irritate Weiss, the late pull-outs of Martin Škrtel and Peter Grajciar figuring prominently among them. You can understand the coach’s frustration here since the players concerned both saw action for their clubs immediately before and after the Luxembourg game. Another worry is the continued non-involvement of Jan Mucha in Everton first-team action. Weiss reveals that Everton called him prior to Mucha’s move to Merseyside and that he supported the transfer but adds that he would now like to know David Moyes’ immediate plans for the goalkeeper.

Perhaps more interesting is the suggestion that the Slovak players’ approach to the Luxembourg game wasn’t right. Weiss says he understands why the prospect of the Stade Josy Barthel on a cold, foggy night didn’t greatly appeal to players who had, just three days before, been giving their all in some of Europe’s biggest leagues. However, he repeats the point he made just after the game, that Slovakia should beat Luxembourg ten times out of ten whatever the conditions. That statement leads to the one which forms perhaps the most interesting section of the interview ; there is a need, says Weiss, to ‘clear up’ certain dressing-room issues.

Strikingly, the coach once again talks about his belief that the Slovak team lacks a leader. It is surprising that Miroslav Karhan doesn’t qualify, especially given the recent statement by club and national team-mate Radoslav Zabavník that Karhan is an influential figure in the Mainz dressing-room. Weiss is actually full of praise for Karhan, suggesting that the midfielder was more upset than any of the team by the performance in Luxembourg and revealing that Karhan even knocked on his door, late at night in the team hotel, to apologise on behalf of the whole squad. There is an admission too that Zdeno Štrba is still missed and a hint that the Žilina man has been sounded out about a return to the Slovakia ranks. Now seemingly settled again in familiar surroundings, Štrba might be receptive to these overtures. At club level at least, he is certainly a leader but, like Karhan, is in his mid-thirties now. Presumably, what Weiss would  like above all is a younger leader.

And that brings us to the most intriguing point of all. Weiss is open about the fact that there are indeed problems of a personal nature among his squad, some of which date back to the World Cup in South Africa. There were, of course, pointers to this even at the time, not least Stanislav Šesták’s public criticism of Marek Hamšík for not closing down the cross which led to New Zealand‘s late equaliser in the opening group game. Now we are told that some players in the national squad are jealous of Hamšík. They resent his popularity and his ability to make money from advertising contracts. Weiss defends the Napoli player, saying he has earned his high profile through his on-field performances. (Those of us who don’t watch much Serie A, in contrast, continue to wonder quite what the fuss is all about.) In the light of these revelations, from the coach himself remember, we are only left to wonder whether Hamšík’s subdued international performances are a symptom or a cause of the tensions between him and his team-mates. Meanwhile, it is clear that Weiss is not one of those who believes that internal conflicts can be a force for good. He wants to return to the positive team-spirit, which, he says, was such a major factor in Slovakia qualifying for the World Cup.

Obviously, then, Weiss has plenty of work ahead of him. For what it’s worth, I still believe he is the best man for the national team job. His achievements in it thus far are significant, his ‚tough-love‘ approach to players seems appropriate, he is constantly thinking about the game and his tactics are flexible. His openness in interviews such as today‘s could be seen as risky but it is also refreshing and might help keep the media onside. Even if the players don’t like it, none can claim that they have been personally criticised.

But, of course, Weiss knows better than anyone that World Cup qualification and creditable performances in South Africa are history. Good results in the games coming up are what he needs now. It would be interesting to know whether he is happy that the next qualifier is in Andorra but one thing seems certain ; lose there, and Weiss will want to hide behind his curtains for rather longer than three days.

James Baxter

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Feb 18 2011

Podcast Debut – FC Den Haag

Published by under Eredivisie

Excuse another promotional post here, but readers who are not such frequent users of social media may be interested to know I made my podcast debut last week.  I’d consumed a few beers after ADO Den Haag beat PSV Eindhoven and then proceeded to challenge the many football podcasts out there to give some much deserved coverage to the team from my current town of residence, The Hague.

I felt ADO deserved a mention not only because of that result, but also because of their performances so far this season which see them currently sitting in 5th place in the Eredivisie.

One podcast responded; Gib Football Show is always worth a listen and I was delighted when Mr Gibney himself contacted me to ask if I wanted to appear on the show to talk about ADO.  [FC Den Haag if you prefer ;-) ]  After my rant the previous weekend, I could hardly refuse, and this is the result – my interview starts 13 minutes in:

Also available for download on Itunes.

Andrew Gibney is a top bloke, as you can see – giving coverage to teams like ADO, and air-time to normal fans like myself. You can follow him on Twitter here and check out his website here.

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Feb 17 2011

Milan Lalkovic / Zilina / Slovan news

Published by under Domestic

Just a quick post to direct readers who may be interested towards Kirsten Schlewitz’s blog for a nice post on Chelsea’s Slovak youngster Milan Lalkovic.  Unfortunately Lalkovic, born in Kosice in 1992, left Slovakia long before he had any chance of gracing domestic pitches as a senior player.  He was signed by Chelsea when just 14 years old and started their standard youth scholarship at the age of 16.  Since then he continues to improve, and as you’ll see from Kirsten’s post, is becoming something of a headline-grabber as far as Chelsea’s youth team is concerned:

While the timing of a potential call-up to the Slovak National team should be considered very carefully, all of us with interest in Slovak football will be hoping that Milan goes on to fulfil his massive potential on the international stage at the appropriate time.

Great stuff from Kirsten and look forward to hearing more about Lalkovic’s progress in the future.

MSK Zilina beat FC Petrzalka 1898 3-1 in a friendly at Stadion Pod Dubnom yesterday in front of approximately 1,000 people (?) which seems a fairly good attendance considering the match was played on a working week day. Perhaps not in the same league as Lalkovic yet, 22-year-old Robert Pich continues to impress [me personally] with his goals, movement and skills.  I hope for domestic football’s sake [and Zilina supporters ;-) ] that Pich spends more than just the remainder of this season in the Corgon Liga, although I fear a move may be imminent, especially if he keeps scoring goals like this first one:

Preparations are in full swing for the return to domestic football next weekend, with Slovan Bratislava travelling to Prague this weekend for an interesting match at the Eden Stadium against Slavia.  Slovan’s form seems to be picking up with comprehensive wins against Romanian team Gaz Metan Medias and Polish side Zaglebie Lubin over the last week or so.

Slovan fans are planning on travelling to Prague with at least one bus, and the troops are most certainly being rallied ahead of the massive match next weekend up in Trnava.

Unfortunately for Slovan fans, both the Trnava and the Zilina away games appear to have been scheduled for 17:30 kick-offs on Friday to accommodate the Digisport TV schedule.  While perhaps afternoon kick-offs can be accepted for friendly matches, it is somewhat unreasonable to expect fans to take an afternoon off work just to be able to watch their team in domestic competition .. or .. is that what the SFZ is hoping for?

One thing is for sure, the Slovan fans won’t be deterred from travelling to Trnava and I’m awaiting this match with anticipation to see what happens both on and off the pitch.

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Feb 13 2011

Austria Wien 1-0 SV Ried

Published by under Austria

With the re-start of the Slovak season still 2 weeks away, James Baxter takes a trip over the border into Austria to get his fix of top-flight football:

I might have a clue to the mystery of where Bratislava’s football fans have disappeared to. Stepping onto the platform at Reumannplatz tram-stop at 2pm on Saturday, I saw my first Austria Vienna scarves. Their wearers were three teenage boys. No surprise so far but, on moving closer, I was a little taken aback to hear them speaking Slovak.

Of course, there are any number of reasons why a bunch of Slovak lads would follow Austria Vienna. But the first possibility that came to my mind is that they are originally fans of either Inter or Slovan who have become disillusioned with the current state of their club. If that is the case, I wouldn’t blame them in the slightest. Inter Bratislava have disappeared completely. They are, supposedly, a partner in the merger with Senica but none of their identity lives on in the new club. Slovan still look strong in many respects, especially in the quality of their squad, but, currently homeless and with reclusive benefactor Ivan Kmotrík not giving many clues as to his future intentions, they are in a kind of limbo. Certainly match-days at their temporary base of Pasienky (Inter’s former home) must be depressing ; a less atmospheric venue is difficult to imagine.

By contrast, Vienna, just 40 miles down the road from the Slovak capital, offers two big(gish) clubs with rich, if contrasting, histories, intimate grounds and consistently successful teams. Rapid are the city’s working-class club, Austria, currently celebrating the centenary of their foundation as an amateur sports club, are considered to have a more genteel following.

I don’t know whether the Slovak youngsters I encountered have taken up with Austria Vienna as a means of climbing the social ladder. I do know that I was heading for the Franz Horr Stadium because I’d had more – far more – than enough of this season’s winter break. With the Slovak league not resuming until February 26th, the start of the Austrian league’s spring phase offered, at long last, the prospect of some live, competitive football. The fixture computer had been kind as well ; the game, between the 4th placed hosts and surprise league leaders SV Ried, was a promising prospect.

Austrian football, I soon found out, offers a few interesting comparisons with its Slovak counterpart. The first thing that struck me on arrival at the Franz Horr Stadium was the corporate takeover of the place. The stadium sponsors Generali (the ground’s ‘official’ name is the Generali Arena) had their own marquee and there were lots of girls giving out Generali balloons. Nike and T-Mobile also had their logos plastered all over the place. Žilina’s Champions League campaign had given me a taste of this sort of thing but you don’t get much of it in the Corgoň Liga. Even Corgoň themselves stick mainly to what they do best, which is serving beer.

Inside the ground, I was rather bemused by an official firework display, carried out just before the teams came onto the pitch. I’m no great fan of pyrotechnics at football matches but at least when the supporters are in charge of the displays, you can see them as an expression of independent ‘fan culture’. Anything organised by the clubs themselves, on the other hand, just seems sanitised and, that word again, corporate. Oddly enough, though, the visiting Ried fans had plenty of flares of their own, while Austria’s didn’t.

Austrian Footy: Colourful

More positively, there’s a hell of a lot of colour in Austrian football. Partly, this is down to the team strips, many of which, Rapid’s green and white stripes, for example, are highly distinctive. Saturday’s game pitted Austria’s beautiful violet against Ried’s change kit of Žilina-like yellow and green. Again, the preponderance of sponsors’ logos, even on the shorts, spoiled the effect just a little but it was still a nice change from the whites and pale blues you get a lot of in Slovakia and was vastly preferable to the sad greys and blacks many Premiership clubs favour for their away strips. The flag-waving from both sets of fans was as impressive as well ; a few of the Ried fans were even tough enough to rip off their shirts and wave them in the air along with the flags.

On the field, well, I’ve long been fascinated by the question of how Slovak football compares to that played in neighbouring countries. I recall some fairly knowledgeable Czech friends saying years ago that Czech and Austrian football were fairly comparable. If they still are, and that’s a big ‘if’ given the recent decline in the Czech game, the Slovaks are not too far behind but, on the evidence of Saturday’s match,  I very much doubt that any Corgoň Liga side would fare well against either Austria or Ried. It was a very good, very even game between two talented, well-organised teams. The main points of interest were Ried’s innovative 3-3-3-1 formation (have you heard about this Zonal Marking?) and the performance of the home side’s Zlatko Junuzovic, Austrian player of the year for 2010, and new Dutch signing Nacer Barazite.

It was Austria who just about prevailed. They had a promising first 20 minutes, with Junuzovic prominent and Barazite drawing a fine save from Hesl in the Ried goal but then rather lost their way as Ried’s tactical plan began to work. The players in the most advanced of the visitor’s lines of three combined beautifully at times, with Spaniard Carill-Regueiro at the heart of most of their best moments. Significantly, however, Heinz Lindner in the Austrian goal was never made to work too hard.

Austria brought on Czech striker Tomáš Jun at half-time to replace the disappointing Roland Linz. Jun was neat and busy but the crucial goal was, inevitably, set up by Junuzovic. With just over an hour gone, he swung in the perfect corner, giving tall centre-back Georg Margreitter the simple task of heading home from inside the six-yard box. Ried continued to play plenty of football as they searched for an equaliser but still they couldn’t force Lindner into a serious save. They are clearly an admirable side but, on this evidence, they might struggle to score enough goals to maintain their place at the top of the league.

Even if it hadn’t been a good game, I’d have enjoyed it. Two months is, after all, a long time for an addict of the live game to be without a fix. There was a minor disappointment in that Austria’s former Slovak international Peter Hlinka didn’t figure. He only missed four of their autumn games and has played in most of the winter friendlies so I can only assume he’s injured. If so, I hope he’ll be back soon. Meanwhile, in his absence, his compatriots in their violet scarves provided just about enough Slovak interest for one day.

James Baxter

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Feb 11 2011

Luxembourg 2-1 Slovakia; where does this leave Slovakia now?

Published by under International

Holding true on our promise to offer unrivaled English language debate on all issues related to Slovak football, James Baxter offers his thoughts in the aftermath of the Luxembourg defeat:

First of all, a disclaimer : I didn’t watch Luxembourg v Slovakia. If it hadn’t been for the demands of a job which makes long midweek trips impossible, I would probably have enjoyed the novelty of being at the game in person, if only for the opportunity, to coin a groundhopper’s phrase, of ‘ticking off’ the Stade Josy Barthel.

And it wasn’t on TV in Slovakia because a new channel called Digi Sport has bought the rights to all the national team’s matches, despite having just 300,000 subscribers. This is a situation which raises questions about the still relatively new SFZ regime, headed by Ján Kováčík. When Kováčík was elected president of the association last autumn, one of his first public pronouncements was to the effect that all Slovaks should have easy access to live broadcasts of international games. He made initial good on that promise too, negotiating a deal whereby Digi Sport shared the rights to the Armenia and Ireland games with state broadcaster STV. There was no such deal for last night’s game. A cynic might speculate that Kováčík’s early energy has lessened somewhat or, perhaps, that brokering an agreement for the broadcasting of a friendly game with Luxembourg is a less eye-catching piece of work than doing the same for important qualifiers.

My own devotion to Slovakia’s cause extends as far as attending home games in person whenever I can and watching the others on TV. It stops short of scrabbling around looking for an internet feed of (probably) variable quality when there are other games easily available on channels such as Nova Sport or Sport 1. So it was Holland v Austria for me on Wednesday night and, as friendlies go, pretty good it was too.

This means, of course, that I cannot claim the right to dissect Slovakia’s performance in Luxembourg. In the lead-up to the game, I felt it was a good one to be playing. With successive Euro 2012 qualifiers against Andorra coming up, the team needed practice in overcoming supposedly weaker opponents intent, presumably, on blanket defence. The poor pitch in Luxembourg was also no bad thing as it would at least offer some preparation for the surface in Andorra, which has been described by Vladimir Weiss as ‘katastrofalný’. With that in mind, the coach intended to try out a physical style of play based on a 4-3-3 formation and plenty of long balls towards a muscular centre-forward. Even the tiny crowd could be seen as an integral part of the exercise. Some of the Slovak squad play their club football in front of large attendances and need to get used to the idea of playing an important game in the kind of low-key atmosphere they will experience in Andorra. In playing terms, Andorra might be minnows but their defeats are becoming narrower and there’s a sense that they might start picking up the odd point in qualifying sooner or later. Slovakia cannot afford for that to happen in either of the next two games and thus need to be well-prepared. On pretty much all counts, the Luxembourg game formed a large part of that preparation.

So much for the theory. Defeat in Luxembourg is an embarrassment in itself and will probably give rise to doubts about the capabilities of the Slovakia squad. Weiss says it’s hard to find words to describe his feelings about the performance. He also reiterates a point he’s made before ; that Slovakia simply cannot afford to have significant numbers of players not fit, out of form or not playing regularly for their clubs. And at least one of those three descriptions applies to several players, including a few in Wednesday’s squad. The coach is positive about players who have taken what he calls ‘steps forward’ in their club careers this winter, naming Juraj Kucka and Erik Jendrišek as examples. But you could equally argue that moving clubs, with all the upheaval it entails, might not be conducive to gearing yourself up for optimum performance in an unglamorous international friendly game. A similar point could be made about players, such as Marek Hamšík, who haven’t moved anywhere but continue to be the subjects of interest and speculation. Call me cynical but I can’t believe that, when rumours of a big-money transfer to Chelsea were being bandied about last week, Hamšík’s thoughts were exclusively of what awaited him in the Stade Josy Barthel.

In fairness, the Slovak camp are not offering excuses for the defeat. Debutant goalkeeper Marián Kello did say that, due to the fog, he couldn’t see beyond his own defenders but that is doubtless a simple statement of fact. Kello joins other players in also pointing out that the fog and the pitch were the same for both sides. Stanislav Šesták says that his team’s style of play failed to trouble Luxembourg and that the home side were skillful and dangerous on the counter. That makes Luxembourg sound a better team than they probably are but there is also a recognition in most of the after-match quotes from the Slovaks that anything less than victory against sides like Wednesday’s opponents and Andorra is a failure.

If there’s one definite positive about Wednesday night, it’s that the game was, after all, a friendly. One effect of the result might be that the team goes on to take the embarrassment out on Andorra. After all, good qualifying performances have followed poor friendly efforts before under Weiss. Also, when it’s really mattered (and, let’s be honest, it didn’t really matter on Wednesday) Slovakia have generally been efficient at swatting teams like Andorra aside. Finally, Group B still looks to be there for the taking. Neither of its other favourites, the prosaic Irish and inconsistent Russians, can be guaranteed to take maximum points from their own forthcoming games. Even if they do, the requisite six points against Andorra would give the Slovaks momentum going into the autumn. Given the gloom, both real and metaphorical, surrounding the Luxembourg game, that thought is worth holding on to.

James Baxter

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Feb 10 2011

Slovakia humiliated in Luxembourg

Published by under Guest,International

While I’m far from delighted with the result, I am absolutely delighted to welcome Kirsten Schlewitz onto the blog.  Kirsten writes a lot of great football articles from her home in the USA and her footballing preferences are uncannily in line with us here at Britski Belasi.  Through her family origins, Kirsten follows Slovakia with particlar interest and this is the first, of hopefully a few, guest appearances on the blog:

When I was eight years old, my father and I drove around in what is commonly referred to as a “pea soup” fog before pulling into the driveway. We made it up to the door of the house before realizing we were at the wrong door. I share this story because that’s what it was like watching Slovakia play Luxembourg on Wednesday. By the second half, it was near impossible to see the ball, much less identify the players nearest it. But although Slovakia lost 2-1 to Luxembourg, the circumstances weren’t quite as dire as one might believe by simply reading the scoreline.

Due to my inability to see much of the match through the mist-o-death, this match report might not be as detailed as some might like. Yet on the plus side for many, you won’t be subject to a minute-by-minute account of how Miroslav Stoch looked in the last thirty minutes of the match, mostly because I never saw the player who has so firmly captured my heart. It all evens out, I suppose.

Much of the match was spent in utter frustration. Some of that came from the play on the field—particularly when the back line kept booting the ball up the pitch, only to send it straight to the Luxembourg keeper. The home defense held a high back line that kept any Slovakian player from pushing through to snatch one of these long balls. Soon, though, my frustration turned to the announcer on the Fox Soccer broadcast, who was unable to name a single Slovakia player, save for Róbert Vittek, for the first 24 minutes of the match. And as I’m sure you’re aware, Vittek was not on the pitch on Wednesday. Fans of Slovakia expecting a decent commentary in English are typically disappointed, but most of the time it’s at least expected that the announcer can identify the players. C’mon, Marek Hamšík? It’s not like he’s unknown, and half of the reason he’s known is for his hair. He’s fairly un-missable.

Anyway. The one true bright spot in the first half, and Slovakia’s sole scorer, was Erik Jendrišek. He was able to get himself into space and was the only Slovakia player to really trouble Luxembourg’s admittedly strong defense. The goal came in the 56th minute, off a beautiful cross that Hamšík hit on the volley. Jendrišek easily beat the Luxembourg defender (ok, I don’t know their names either, but I’m not paid to know) and slipped past the keeper to put the ball in the corner of the net. The rest of the Slovakia players went off to celebrate with Jendrišek but had difficulty locating him amidst the fog.

The celebration was short lived, anyway. Four minutes later, just as I got distracted by Miňo Stoch stripping down on the sidelines, Luxembourg’s substitute Daniel Da Mota scored. Luxembourg had been awarded a free kick and there was a scramble near the goal. Juraj Kucka, who had a pitiful match in every way, headed the ball straight to Da Mota’s feet, and the striker had no trouble poking it into the net.

Just a few minutes later, Kucka made way for Radoslav Zabavník while Vladimír Weiss, who also had a decent game, came off for Stoch, who promptly disappeared into the mist and made me sad. Then Peter Pekarík came off and František Kubík, earning his first cap for Slovakia and making certain fans of ADO Den Haag ecstatic, I’m sure, replaced him (I know there must have been tactical changes involved in these substitutions, but I challenge you to see them in the swirling fog). Finally, Marián Kello took the place of Ján Mucha. These substitutions, many of which would not occur in a competitive match, ultimately led to the goal and Luxembourg’s win.

It was Da Mota, again, who found the net for Luxembourg. He grabbed the ball and easily stepped around Zabavník. Kello, on the pitch for just a few minutes, decided to run toward the play rather than staying in front of goal, left the net wide open. It was a simple goal for Da Mota, but one that likely would not have occurred had Mucha still been in the net.

And that’s how the score stayed: 2-1 Luxembourg, with both goals courtesy of Da Mota. It looks bad, I know. After all, Luxembourg are at the bottom of Euro Group D, their only point coming from a draw with Belarus.  While the fog shouldn’t be used as an excuse, the conditions were truly horrible. Add to that the fact that almost every one of the referee’s calls went in favor of the home team, and the last minute substitutions that caused a few mental breakdowns in defense…well, the loss really isn’t a surprise, when evaluated that way. Yet bringing in, say, Milan Lalkovič certainly wouldn’t go amiss. The youngster’s speed and precision in front of goal could have put Slovakia ahead much earlier on in the match, and saved the team from having to use the fog as an excuse.

Oh, and if you’re still upset with Slovakia’s loss to Luxembourg, take a look at this photo:

The night before the match, Vladi Weiss decided to teach his teammates how to play Monopoly, and share the results on Twitter. On Wednesday morning, he declared himself the Monopoly champion. So Slovakia have one victory on their side this week. Any thoughts as to whether Daddy Weiss needs to pull his “Get Out Of Jail Free” card? (Thank @Napoli_Blogger for the horrible pun).

Follow Kirsten on Twitter here

And be sure to check out her excellent blog here

(yes I’m Villa-inclined too Kirsten!)

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Feb 06 2011

PSV Eindhoven 0-1 ADO Den Haag: The Den Haag dream continues!

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I’m going to deviate from the usual Slovak theme on the blog with a post on what, to me, was the most amazing result in European football yesterday.   Cologne’s win over Bayern Munich, Wolves beating Man Utd, Newcastle and Stuttgart’s comebacks, there are numerous big stories from yesterday’s action, but in my opinion, none can match ADO Den Haag defeating PSV Eindhoven in the Philips Stadium for the first time in 40 years.  October 1971 was the last time this result was achieved which makes this feat even more impressive than the 1-0 victory against Ajax in the Amsterdam Arena earlier in the season.  The celebrations after the Ajax victory were sensational, obviously due to the nature of the result, but also largely motivated by dislike of the Amsterdammers.  There is nowhere near as much animosity towards PSV, but this is a victory which must be celebrated out of purely on-the-field matters.  The fans here are as passionate as any I’ve come across and realised the extent of their team’s achievement, once again meeting at the training ground late last night to welcome the players bus home in a repeat of the post-Ajax scenes.

I did get rather excited on twitter last night, and suggested that any podcast which mentions this match, and in the context of ADO’s success rather than just the shortcomings of PSV will seriously rise in my estimation.  I stand by that because as I mentioned above, I think this result punches well above it’s weight on a number of levels.   Some of the podcasts out there do offer excellent coverage of the European game, but it does grate somewhat when Spain gets such regular coverage even when nothing is happening, and mentions of the Eredivisie are few and far between and largely restricted to Ajax and how they will miss Luis Suarez.

This result has thrown the Eredivisie wide open.  FC Twente move into the box seat ahead of their match at Utrecht this afternoon, but Ajax, and even Groningen are now very much back in the mix.  Below Groningen?  ADO Den Haag!  The list of records being beaten by ADO this season continues to grow and this is becoming the best season in recent memory with the realistic dream of European football very much alive.  Teams placed 4th-7th in Holland play off for a Europa League place, and from this position, ADO will be disappointed if they aren’t one of the 4.

I was going to write something on ADO’s Slovak player Frantisek Kubik’s performance ahead of his international call-up for next week’s match in Luxembourg, but Kubik was fairly quiet and one can’t possibly write about this match without full discussion of ADO Den Haag’s performance.

For those interested, I’ll direct you to 11tegen11′s tactical analysis when it’s up but I’d just like to mention a few things about the game that were the subject of our discussions last night:

PSV started as much the stronger team and dominated possession especially during the first half an hour.  With Balazs Dszudszak on the field, you feel that PSV have the creativity to conjure a goal up from nowhere.   In spite of this, John van den Brom had his ADO team together, sharp, motivated and very well organised.  ADO just soaked up the pressure, and never looked uncomfortable at the back.  With Wesley Verhoek and Kubik on the wings as well as Russian striker Dmitry Bulykin up front, ADO always posed a threat on the counter attack, although chances for both sides were few and far between.

Against Ajax, ADO’s goalkeeper Coutinho had to make a number of sensational saves, but that just wasn’t the case here. As the match wore on, ADO realised that they were very much in with a shout of claiming the point which would, at that stage, been seen as a victory.  As ADO’s confidence grew, PSV’s withered and, as they do here in Holland, the crowd started to get on the home team’s back.  PSV’s tactics became limited to long balls up to the highly ineffective Ola Toivonen and supposed international class midfielder Orlando Engelaar’s passing went from bad to worse.

ADO managed to keep Dszudszak out of the game and the defensive partnership of Timothy Derijk and Ramon Leeuwin had things under control.  With defensive midfielder Alexander Radosavljevic, full backs Ammi & Pique, the defensive base was as solid as we’ve seen it for ADO and is a vindication of the mastery of van der Brom’s tactics.  As you move up the field you’re talking about players who are all on top form at the moment, especially Jens Toornstra who we believe is ADO’s best player.  Toornstra is a young midfielder who is a pleasure to watch, excellent work rate, passing and running second to none on the park yesterday and we’re seeing an improvement in his decision making.  He took one shot from distance yesterday which on another day might have flown in and it would have been Toornstra taking all the accolades.  If he can start adding goalscoring to his list of attributes, what a player he will become.

As mentioned before, this wasn’t really Kubik’s game, although I do believe his presence on the field always gives opposition fullbacks reason to hesitate before springing forward.  The same can be said for Wesley Verhoek and with him alongside Lex Immers, it’s like watching two mates play the game they love and very refreshing.  These guys are all working so hard for ADO this season, and again, the credit must go to van den Brom.

As if there were any question marks left over how van den Brom had this match planned to a tee, he replaced Kubik with another pacy attacker Carlton Vincento when the temptation could have been there to go more defensive and see out the 0-0.  As the match moved into injury time, another wayward pass from the PSV midfield was intercepted by Pique, directed onto Vincento who broke down the wing with real pace and put a dangerous ball across the edge of the PSV box. The PSV defence was nowhere and it appeared to be a 50/50 ball between Isaksson and Bulykin, however both missed it and it ran free to Verhoek on the corner of the 6-yard box.  His first touch was awful and almost took the ball over the by-line but somehow he squeezed it in and pure unbridled joy for the whole ADO bench and fans as they’d secured the 3 points in the 92nd minute!

Sensational stuff from ADO.  Massive credit to John van den Brom and the whole squad, once again.  Next up, VVV Venlo at home, a match they will surely be big favourites to win.  What you just love about this season is that you know van den Brom will have let the players celebrate and enjoy this moment, but you also know they will be back fully focussed and with a totally new tactical game tailored to the next task at hand.

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Feb 05 2011

Slovakia: 10 to Watch

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One of the most satisfying aspects of watching football regularly in a country like Slovakia is that you have the opportunity to spot players with potential before they become known to a wider audience. It’s a pleasure that has lessened slightly over the last few years since some of the country’s most precocious talents, Marek Hamšík and Vladimir Weiss Junior among them, have joined the academies of big clubs in Europe’s major leagues at a very young age. But there are still plenty of very good footballers in the Corgoň Liga, some of whom attract considerable attention from abroad. Šport last week published a list of 10 Slovakia-based players considered most likely to be of interest, along with an estimation of how much each might be worth on the transfer market.

The top three are players we’ve discusssed in various contexts on Britskibelasi before ; Momodou Ceesay and Babatounde Bello of Žilina and Karim Guédé of Slovan Bratislava. Ceesay owes his inclusion almost exclusively to his performances and spectacular goals in the Champions League qualifying rounds, since when he’s been, to put it mildly, inconsistent (infuriating is my preferred adjective). Not many would dispute Bello’s or Guédé’s place on the list ; a midfield containing both would be pretty formidable in better leagues than the Corgoň Liga.

Next are three players I’ve very much enjoyed watching over the last 18 months or so. Slovan’s Erik Grendel is the captain of the Slovakia Under 21 team and is a highly skillful  midfielder with the vision and technique to play defence-splitting passes.

Grendel scoring for Slovan v Red Star last summer

Ružomberok’s Tomáš Ďubek, a playmaker with an especially good left foot, was sometimes favourably compared as a youngster with Hamšík. His development then slowed somewhat but his form this season, in a largely disappointing Ružomberok side, has been excellent. Issa Koro Kone of Spartak Trnava is another who has begun to fulfil his potential this season. He can play either as a striker or out wide and is fast and tricky, offering his team a great outlet when they are on the defensive but looking to counter-attack. If he could add composure to his finishing, he would be a very attractive proposition for a bigger club.

Ivorian Kone

Then comes Mario Pečalka. I feel I can pass him over this time, having already written at length about him when Hapoel Tel Aviv seemed on the verge of landing his signature last week. Pečalka is followed by Prešov’s Jakub Diviš, the only goalkeeper on the list. Slovak keepers are all the rage at the moment and Diviš’s recent loan move to Hibernian sees him join three of his compatriots and fellow custodians in the Scottish league. The list is completed by two players who had pretty much escaped my notice. They are Senica left-back Filip Lukšík and Banská Bystrica’s young utility player Jakub Brašeň. Of course, one of the nice things about a newspaper feature like this is that it does give you ideas about who to look out for in future and I’ll certainly have my eyes open for Lukšík and Brašeň when their teams next face Žilina.

The other beauty of this feature is that it makes you think of players you would have included if you’d had to write it yourself. There are three I would definitely have found room for. First is Bystrica’s captain and central midfielder Viktor Pečovský. He is the man who keeps one of the league’s most attractive teams functioning. He’s good at finding space for himself, does the simple things effortlessly and can spot and play a killer pass. It was good to hear this week that national team coach Vladimir Weiss Senior recognises these qualities and has included Pečovský on the reserve list for next week’s friendly in Luxembourg.

Pecovsky in action for Dukla

Then there is Milan Pavlovič, a holding midfielder with Vion Zlaté Moravce. He is an inelegant looking player but the fact that Vion allowed few chances to both Žilina and Trnava when I saw them away to these sides last autumn owed a lot to his ability to cut off opposition attacks. Finally, based purely on how he’s performed when I’ve seen him in action, I would include striker Marek Kuzma, another Under 21 international. Kuzma showed promise at Dubnica, flourished at Bystrica (together with Dušan Uškovič, he cut Žilina’s defence to pieces in a September 2009 league game) and was signed by Slovan last January. His career has been stalled by injury and loss of form since then and he seems likely to spend this spring out on loan. From what I’ve seen of him, though, he’s too good a player to be out of the domestic spotlight for much longer.

Marek Kuzma

The Šport list, together with the current club, age and market valuation of each player, is below :

Momodou Ceesay   MŠK Žilina   22    800,000 Euros

Babatounde Bello    MŠK Žilina   21    750,000 Euros

Karim Guédé    Slovan Bratislava   25    700,000 Euros

Erik Grendel     Slovan Bratislava   21    650,000 Euros

Issa Koro Kone    Spartak Trnava    21    400,000 Euros

Tomáš Ďubek   MFK Ružomberok   24    300,000 Euros

Mario Pečalka   MŠK Žilina    30    300,000 Euros

Jakub Diviš    Tatran Prešov (on loan at Hibernian)   24    300,000 Euros

Filip Lukšík    FK Senica    25     300,000 Euros

Jakub Brašeň    Dukla Banská Bystrica    21    200,000 Euros

James Baxter

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