Archive for March, 2011

Mar 30 2011

Slovakia 1-2 Denmark

Published by under International

James Baxter travelled to Trnava from Zilina in search of answers to some fundamental questions surrounding International football in Slovakia at the moment; namely Where, Who and How should the National Team be playing?

I ended yestersday’s preview wondering how the Slovak national team and Trnava would get on together so I suppose we should deal with that issue first. If a certain weariness is apparent in these words, it is because, as ever with the SFZ and Slovak football, there is a background story, one involving resignations, accusations and counter-accusations. The task of getting to the heart of it all is likely to prove about as rewarding as attempting to uncover the origins of a squabble between five-year olds.

Certain facts, at least, are clear. Trnava last hosted an international game in autumn 2007 and it was an inauspicious occasion, Slovakia losing to 5-2 to Wales (yes, Wales) in front of a crowd of just 5,000. Since then, Žilina has staged three national team matches, two of which sold out. Last October, MŠK Žilina owner Jozef Antošík was elected to the position of international representative at the SFZ but resigned earlier this month amid claims that he was attempting to make his club’s ground Slovakia’s temporary national stadium.

As with any childish row, there would seem to be rights and wrongs on both sides. Žilina‘s Štadión pod Dubňom has excellent facilities and the local people seem to enjoy watching the national team. The capacity crowds for the Chile friendly in November 2009 and the qualifier against Ireland last October do, however, suggest that the ground was becoming a victim of its own success and that it might be too small to manage the potentially huge game coming up this autumn against Russia.

Trnava’s Štadión Antona Malatinského offers a potential solution. It can hold 7,000 more than pod Dubňom and can generate as fine an atmosphere. Its location, close to Bratislava, is also an advantage ; visiting teams flying to the Slovak capital or Vienna can have few objections to the distance from airport to this venue. If, and it is an if, Antošík was attempting to deny Trnava the chance to hold international games, he was showing favouritism to his own club and thus it is probably a good thing that he has resigned. Yet it now seems that, in promoting Trnava, the SFZ are shutting Žilina out. Their plan for the coming months, at least as it comes across in the media, has Trnava staging not only the Russia game but the Armenia one as well. Žilina is barely mentioned.

This seems unwise to me. Žilina’s ground has limitations but has proved itself as an international venue while Trnava’s hasn’t, as yet. It seems clear that, with a national stadium in Bratislava still a long way off, both grounds are needed and thus the row between Antošík and his opponents needs sorting out. It is necessary, then, for someone to do what any reasonable adult would do with silly kids ; tell them all to stop making spectacles of themselves and start playing together again.

As for last night’s game, let’s be honest, it attracted an extremely disappointing attendance. Slovakia haven’t been playing particularly well lately but Denmark are attractive opposition and it was a very pleasant spring evening. If fewer than 5,000 can be bothered to turn up given those factors, you do wonder whether international games in Trnava will never draw the numbers that attend them in Žilina, let alone full-houses.

On the other hand, there were signs that those who were present last night were attempting to establish a bond between themselves and the Slovakia players. The atmosphere was hardly fervent but it was mostly supportive, especially when the home team were trying to get back into the game after conceding an unfortunate early goal.

The crowd also displayed a fundamental decency in applauding substituted Danish players off the field. Denis Rommedahl, in particular, seemed to appreciate the gesture and gave the whole ground a clap when he limped out of the game after 30 minutes. Nicklas Bendtner, by contrast, strengthened my impression of him as a man of much skill but no class by pointedly ignoring the paying public as they acknowledged his performance.

As for the game itself, Slovakia were always going to find it difficult to improve their dismal record (it now reads P16 W3 D4 L9) in friendly games under Vladimir Weiss. Facing the quality possessed by the Danes is one thing, missing six key players is another, putting the ball in your own net after two minutes is yet another. Kornel Saláta, the man ‘credited‘ with that own goal was simply unlucky ; he had to cut out Rommedahl’s cross but, in doing so, succeeded only in wrong-footing Marián Kello.

Much of the rest of the first-half was encouraging for Slovakia. Marek Čech and Kamil Kopúnek took time to settle into their midfield roles but ultimately provided a good platform for Marek Hamšík to get forward and support the front three. Filip Hološko, however, was the best player, showing power, pace and a striker’s instinct. His equalising goal, resulting from a poor back-pass, was both coolly taken and richly deserved.

I wasn’t too keen on Weiss’s half-time substitutions. I’m not convinced we needed 45 more minutes of Jan Ďurica alongside Martin Škrtel in central defence. Also, while the decision to take off Filip Lukšík (who has proved he has international pedigree over the last few days) and switch Čech to left-back was fair enough, I can’t fathom why Filip Šebo was the man to come on. The combined result was that Hološko was shunted out of a position he’d been playing well in and the midfield began to look short of bodies. I would have brought on the local boy, Marek Kaščák, both to give the locals someone to really get behind and to maintain the support for Hamšík and Kopúnek.

Kaščák did eventually come on but only after Denmark, taking increasing advantage of the openness of the game, had scored what proved to be their winner. If the contest provided a lesson that needs to be absorbed, it is that Slovakia have to be compact, especially in central midfield, to have a chance of defeating good sides.

More positively, certain players suggested that they have an international future ahead of them. I’ve already mentioned Lukšík. Along with Juraj Piroška, one of the few who got better as the game went on, he showed that it is possible to play for a Corgoň Liga club and do yourself credit in representative football. And Marián Kello looks a very fine goalkeeper. His saves, especially in the second-half, ensured that Slovakia still had hope of a decent result going into injury-time.

Not much of this seems particularly conclusive but that’s the nature of friendly games. The contrast between Weiss’s friendly record and his competitive one (P19 W11 D3 L5) rather bears that point out. Last night’s game doesn’t tell us whether or not Slovakia will qualify for Euro 2012. It doesn’t even tell us whether Trnava should continue to stage home matches. For true wisdom, we’ll have to wait until October at the earliest. In the meantime, back to the Corgoń Liga…..

James Baxter

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Mar 29 2011

Slovakia v Denmark: Preview

Published by under International

Just over a year ago, Slovak football held its Player of the Year awards night two days before a home friendly against Norway. Tonight, 48 hours after the gongs were given out for 2010, it’s Slovakia v Denmark. Just to complete the symmetry, while Slovakia were making hard work of Andorra in Euro 2012 qualifying on Saturday, last year’s opponents were facing tonight’s ; it was 1-1 between the Norwegians and the Danes in Oslo.

There are differences, of course, between last year and tonight. Slovakia v Norway was played in Žilina, the awards bash having taken place next door to the Štadión pod Dubňom at the Holiday Inn. The Denmark game, in contrast, will be held in Trnava, half an hour or so up the road from Bratislava’s Hviezdoslav Theatre, the venue for Sunday’s ceremony.

The differences also extend to the atmosphere surrounding the Slovak squad. Egil Olsen’s team won 1-0 last March, dampening some of the anticipation surrounding the hosts’ upcoming World Cup appearance. After the game, Vladimir Weiss expressed the view that the awards ceremony had been an unwelcome distraction from his side’s preparations. It was a reasonable point, in part because the event had an air of self-congratulation about it; understandable, perhaps, given the still recent achievement of qualification for South Africa, but not conducive to gearing up to face such unyielding opponents as the Norwegians.

Going into the Denmark game, in contrast, the feeling is that Weiss’s team have to rediscover some self-belief. After a run of four games without a win, followed by the nervous victory in Andorra, they need to simply go out, unburdened by pressure, and play. Whether the awards night has any effect this time remains to be seen but, lent particular poignancy by the appearance of Ján Popluhar’s son to present the main award, it was certainly very different in tone from last year’s. Perhaps it has even provided the players with a legitimate diversion from what awaits them this evening and their performance will be better as a result. If that is true, Weiss will have no reason to repeat last year’s complaints.

Only five of the players who started in Andorra are in tonight’s starting XI. Three – Peter Pekarík, Martin Škrtel and Filip Lukšík – are defenders. Kornel Saláta, replacing Ján Ďurica, completes the back four. Hearts goalkeeper Marián Kello, in for Ján Mucha, will be behind them. Marek Hamšík, who might be thankful he can still walk, let alone play football, after Saturday’s shocking tackle on him, keeps his place in midfield. He will be joined by Marek Čech and Kamil Kopúnek. Erik Jendrišek (the final survivor from Saturday’s line-up), Filip Hološko and Juraj Piroška will form a front three.

Weiss is promising an attacking 4-3-3 formation and wants the players to ‘perform for the fans’. That sounds good in theory but perhaps we shouldn’t raise our expectations too high. With Weiss Junior and Stoch not playing, the side might lack a little pace and trickery. Allowances should also be made for certain players’ unfamiliarity with each other ; the attacking trio, for example, looks distinctly experimental. But this is what friendlies are for. Personally, I am looking forward to seeing Slovakia try out new players and new ideas against good quality opposition (apologies, by the way, to Denmark for largely ignoring them in this piece) in front of what should be a decent attendance. It will also be interesting to see how Trnava takes to the national team and vice versa but that is an issue best left for another article….

James Baxter

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Mar 27 2011

Andorra 0-1 Slovakia. How do we react?

Published by under International

So how do we react? Be happy that Slovakia at least won and look forward to Tuesday and beyond? Or bemoan the fact that it wasn’t as convincing as we’d hoped and fret that, playing like that, they’ve no chance of troubling better sides? My inclination, conveniently forgetting the alcohol-fuelled optimism which prompted Friday’s prediction of a 4-0 win, is towards the first response. A win is a win. And Russia drawing in Armenia is not a bad result either. All round, it wasn’t that bad a night.

I even feel positive about aspects of the performance in Andorra. In the first-half, Slovakia were completely on top. Kóňa justified his inclusion at the heart of the midfield by playing simple but accurate passes, Hamšík was inventive and the front four (Stoch, Vittek, Jendrišek and Šebo) caused the home side a succession of problems with their skill and movement. The goal showcased a lot of the things Slovakia did well in that first period. Hamšík rejected the option of a flighted free-kick into the box in favour of sliding the ball down the left channel to Vittek. Vittek turned and outmuscled his marker before hitting a low ball across the face of the goal to Šebo and the in-form Slovan striker reacted smartly to flick the ball past the keeper.

The half-time whistle would, I suspect, have brought a sense of deflation. Slovakia had been completely dominant but had only one goal to show for their efforts. A second just before the interval might have seen them take a greater sense of liberation into the second period. As it was, they seemed torn between the need to preserve the lead and the desire to increase it. Kóňa seemed to tire from about the 60th minute and Hamšík’s influence began to fade. I’m not going to be too critical of the Napoli man this time ; he might have been affected by the horrendous first-half tackle on him that could easily have broken his leg and should certainly have resulted in a red card for the perpetrator. It did surprise me, however, that Vladimir Weiss didn’t send on Kamil Kopúnek to give the midfield renewed energy.

Andorra, as the tackle on Hamšík and a later one on Peter Pekarík showed, were not afraid to use crude tactics to stop their opponents at times. Yet in certain respects, they played a legitimately clever game too. They didn’t go chasing an equaliser at too early a stage but, as the game wore on, began to prey on Slovakia’s anxiety at not having killed it off. For a bunch of part-timers and amateurs, their fitness levels were impressive as well. Despite being outclassed in the first-half, they closed-down diligently and enough of their players had sufficient energy to get forward in the last few minutes to cause Slovakia a few heart-stopping moments.

Overall, yes, I would like to have seen a more emphatic win for Slovakia. But they are not the first team in this group to struggle in Andorra and they did at least emerge with the three points. The first-half performance was as good as could have been asked for and deserved more than just the one goal. Besides the players already mentioned, Filip Lukšík made a fine debut at left-back and was one of the best players on the pitch. And Erik Jendrišek maintained a high level of performance over the whole 90 minutes. His work-rate was, yet again, prodigious and he produced occasional pieces of defence-splitting brilliance.

My thoughts are now turning to Tuesday night and the visit of Denmark. It would be interesting to see Lukšík given an opportunity against a genuinely decent side. I guess we’ll also see those who played little or no part in Andorra ; Kello, Saláta, Piroška, Kopúnek, Sapara (fitness permitting) and so on. The Danes might be feeling a little down after conceding a late equaliser in Norway and the home side, free of the pressure of needing to win, will be able to simply play and show what they can do. If, and it is an if, the Trnava public are able to forget their differences with all things Bratislava (and Žilina, Senica and everwhere else in the country) and just get behind Slovakia, it could be a good night. My Friday night optimism remains undimmed, even by Sunday evening sobriety.

James Baxter

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Mar 24 2011

Slovakia Needs 3 Points

Published by under International

Andorra v Slovakia, 26.03.11 20:00 CET

Everybody knows Slovakia made a splash at last year’s World Cup, the only major tournament they have ever qualified for. Coming out of that World Cup the young team whose talented collection of footballers ply their trade across all corners of Europe had the perfect springboard from which to bounce into the qualifying campaign for Euro 2012.  Since then, and after victory in the first two qualifiers, how they have stuttered.  Defeat to Armenia, a nervy draw in Zilina against the Irish, unacceptable defeat in [a friendly against] Luxembourg, is it time for the Slovak ship to move back into smoother waters over the summer.  The schedule is favourable, back-to-back matches against Andorra should provide the perfect transition into a series of undoubtedly crucial matches towards the end of the year.

In spite of the riches many of the squad have discovered through their talents, they must remember their roots.  These guys must appreciate that the couple of hundred or so Slovaks who made the trip to South Africa were high-end football tourists, the fortunate few from a country where football is unfashionable and still plays a definite 2nd fiddle to ice hockey.  While the average football fan in Slovakia can’t even dream of trips to distant continents, road trips to neighbouring countries are high on the agenda.  Supporters of domestic teams prove that in the preliminary rounds of European qualifying competition.

The World Ice Hockey Championships are fast approaching. Bratislava and Kosice are gearing up for their moment in the spotlight, now just over a month away.  With all the excitement surrounding the hockey, it could be all too easy for football to pass the country by in 2011, and the stark reality is that anything short of 6 points in the next 2 matches against Andorra will leave Slovakia with an almost impossible task to qualify.

Slovaks go with the flow, like sports fans across the globe they are fickle, they will jump on the hockey bandwagon this year and they will jump on the football bandwagon next year, if Slovakia qualify.  You won’t change the culture of a Nation, so you better nurture it and that must be the message to the squad flying out to Andorra today.  Poland is just up the road [road links in desperate need of improvement, let me add], Lvov is just over the border from large centres of population in the East of Slovakia.  Slovakia won’t have another football Championships so close to home for years and years and years.  Slovakia missed the Austrian boat in 2008 and had to sit back and watch enviously while the Poles took transport links, accommodation and liquid refreshment in the Slovak Capital ahead of their matches across the border in Vienna.

So, Marek, Miroslav, Robert, Filip, Martin, Kornel etc this is massive.  Forget your magazine covers, your 5 figure paycheques and transfer speculation.  Please, for Slovakia, get yourselves together, away from the management team if need be, and make your pact, make your plan, get us to the Euros.  Qualify for Poland and Ukraine and the fans will be there to support you.  Even in Dublin, the fans will be there to support you, I am sure of it, if that match is alive,  many Slovaks will be in the Aviva Arena on 2-September.  You will get your time in the spotlight.

The squad flew out to Andorra today without the injured Stanislav Sestak, Radoslav Zabavnik, Juraj Kucka and Vladimir Weiss Jr.  I could go on about how they will be missed, but that will only be the case if we enter the final half an hour with the match still not put to bed.  Admittedly options are reduced with this quartet out of the squad, but the non-calling up of any replacements shows that Slovakia are confident that the rest of the squad can do the job.

This is not a tactical preview, I am not a tactician, I just want Slovakia to win.  I want Marek Hamsik to answer his critics on the International stage, I want one of the centre forwards to score 2 goals and I want a clean sheet.  If I had to say something to the team regarding tactics,  I would strongly advise Slovakia to bombard Andorra from the off.  Attack, win corners, free-kicks around the box, send the big guns up, try and get a couple of goals early on so everyone can relax and start enjoying his football.  Try and set the platform for a big win.  I’m asking for 3 points, but I can already see the headlines if the result is 1-2 or 0-1.  This squad needs it’s buzz back and a couple of big wins in the next 2 matches will do it.

And, if it’s not working, don’t panic, any one of the professionals in the Slovakia squad is more than up to the job out in Andorra, bring on a couple of the new guys, let them do their thing.  Let Hamsik know he is not untouchable as captain.  I don’t know what tactics Weiss intends to employ, I don’t think anyone does.  I just hope he picks 2 proper strikers, start Vittek, to give the squad the confidence back from South Africa and play Filip Sebo, the Corgon Liga’s form striker.  Play Jendrisk behind them if necessary and give Hamsik the chance to dictate the game, play Stoch as well, let him do his thing against amateur defenders.  Play Skrtel and Salata at the back, and Sapara can hold in midfield if necessary.  Don’t leave the wingbacks exposed and dominate possession.

Make the right headlines, Slovensko do toho!!

 

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Mar 20 2011

Spring ‘Sacking Season’ in the Slovak League

Published by under Domestic

However much you love football, certain things that happen in association with it are guaranteed to leave you shaking your head in a mixture of sadness and incomprehension. One of these is the sacking of a manager or coach. Just three weeks into the Slovak season’s spring phase, two Corgoň Liga coaches have lost their jobs and a couple more look unlikely to last much longer in their posts.

Nitra’s Ivan Vrabec was first to go, ahead of last Tuesday’s home clash with Prešov. He had overseen a poor start to the spring, his side conceding ten goals in three successive defeats and rendering the one victory achieved under him, a surprise success away to Vion Zlaté Moravce just before the winter break, no more than a distant memory. Cyril Stachura, an unknown even in Slovakia, has held the reins for Nitra’s last two matches and four points have been gained. Prešov were edged out 1-0 and a late equaliser earned a 1-1 draw against a wasteful Dubnica side on Saturday. There is speculation, however, that Milan Lešický, now a wise old man of Slovak football, will be offered a role in the Nitra set-up.

Saturday morning brought news of a second sacking, that of Trnava coach Dušan Radolský. It is impossible not to feel sympathy here since even a lengthy injury list had not stopped Trnava battling their way to seven points from games against Banská Bystrica, Nitra and Ružomberok. But Radolský’s fate appears to have been decided by his team’s failure to take points from fellow challengers near the top of the table, Slovan Bratislava and Senica. At present, Trnava are giving no clues as to who might take over first-team duties.

Before Vrabec and Radolský were fired, the likeliest candidate to become the league’s first coaching casualty of the spring appeared to be DAC Dunajská Streda’s Mikuláš Radványi. His employers were muttering darkly about ‘inconsistent results and unacceptable performances’ before the club’s home fixture with Žilina nine days ago. If the team didn’t earn at least a point, they said, Radványi might well find himself out of a job. A 2-2 draw earned a stay of execution but two successive defeats since suggest that the Dunajská Streda players could be saying their goodbyes to Radványi quite soon.

If Radványi is sacked, he might well be able to exchange commiseratory messages with Ružomberok coach Goran Milojevič, whose downbeat demeanour in the press conference which followed Saturday’s home game with Prešov was suggestive of more than just disappointment at another defeat. I would say the odds are about evens that both Radványi and Milojevič will be out of work before the end of this week.

It has to be remembered of course that, in most cases, these coaches have responsibilities which extend no further than training their club’s first-team. They work under directors of football and have little or no say in, for example, scouting, transfers or the running of academies. When they are appointed to a job, they are not, in general, allowed to bring their own trusted assistants with them. And they understand very well that poor results, perhaps just one poor result, can lead to the sack.

Yet the impatience of some club owners remains hard to comprehend. The people in charge at Trnava, for example, should have understood not only that Radolský had been handicapped by having to send out weakened sides recently but also that he did a fine job in the autumn, turning a side that looked shambolic towards the end of last season into one that was competing near the top. At DAC, meanwhile, Radványi was getting on rather well, the odd disappointing result aside, until the club’s hierarchy started issuing threats and ultimatums.

The game I attended on Saturday featured two sides under relatively stable management. Žilina’s Pavel Hapal, unusually in Slovakia, doubles up as director of football and first-team coach. His efforts in winning a Championship and securing a Champions League place have not been enough to prevent owner Jozef Antošík’s periodic interferences in team affairs but do seem to have earned a little tolerance for when results take a downward turn.

Vion Zlaté Moravce coach Juraj Jarábek, meanwhile, oversees a side which, in its first season following promotion, has proved clearly superior to at least five others in the league and is capable of making life difficult for the better teams. His job, like the club’s mid-table position, looks fairly secure. It was interesting to hear Jarábek say after Saturday’s game that Vion had just produced the worst attacking performance he’d seen from them. Their finishing, it is true, could have been better, but Martin Dubravka in the home goal was made to earn his clean sheet.

Žilina still appear at times to be playing on the basis of trial and error. Some of the tactics which worked in the second-half of Tuesday’s match against Košice were tried from the start against Vion. Zdeno Štrba played in defence, with Arturs Zjuzins in central midfield and Momodou Ceesay on the right in a 4-1-4-1 formation. The performance didn’t always convince but it was good enough to take the three points. The only goal came in the 50th minute when Vion defender Milan Pavlovič kicked thin air rather than the ball, allowing Roman Gergel to advance before setting up Babatounde Bello for a simple finish.

Hapal’s after-match interviews, though more positive in tone than Jarábek’s, contained plenty of references to areas of his team’s game which need improvement. At least these two men, both doing commendable work, can feel reasonably certain that they will be the ones attempting to remedy their players’ shortcomings over the coming weeks. Meanwhile, any envy towards them felt by Vrabec, Radolský, Radványi and Milojevič would be understandable.

James Baxter

 

4 responses so far

Mar 20 2011

Round 23: Top 3 all win

Published by under Domestic

The situation at the top of the league is as tense as ever in Slovakia.  FK Senica, who haven’t conceded a goal since the winter break demolished supposed challengers Spartak Trnava 4-0 on Friday night putting all the pressure back on MSK Zilina to reclaim top spot at home against Zlate Moravce the following day. 

Zlate Moravce are the only team to register a point against Senica this spring season and it must have been a nervy afternoon at Stadion Pod Dubnom with the home team holding on to a 1-0 win thanks to Babatounde Bello’s 50th minute goal.

Slovan Bratislava were home and dry against Kosice by half-time, going into the break at 3-0 thanks to goals from Sebo, Milinkovic & Kordic.  With Sebo adding his 2nd and Slovan’s 4th goal in the last minute, Slovan record another comfortable victory at home in front of a disappointing crowd of 1520.  Sebo has now scored 6 goals in his last 5 league matches and must be a serious contender for a starting position in Vladimir Weiss’ selection for Slovakia’s crucial Euro 2012 qualifier in Andorra next Saturday. 

Personally I do hope Sebo starts [and scores] out in Andorra, but equally I hope he is left out of the friendly match with Denmark on the 29th.  Slovan’s next match is an absolutely vital one away in Zilina on Friday 1st April.  Win at Pod Dubnom and Slovan close the gap to 4 points, defeat would leave them an unassailable 10 behind the Champions.  Quite simply, Slovan need Sebo in that match, injury in a meaningless international friendly would leave the fans feeling distinctly bitter about the wisdom behind the timing of the fixture.

In terms of Slovan’s challenge for silverware this season, they have plenty more games to negotiate knowing that each point dropped [ala Dubnica last week] makes the task harder.  With the Zilina match, home and away league and cup games against Trnava, Senica away on the 4th May and a date with DAC on the last day of the season, the remainder of the campaign promises to be extremely exciting, as long as they keep winning!

Banska Bystrica seem to have refound their form with a convincing 2-0 home win over DAC bringing them level on points with Trnava in 4th place.  DAC slip towards mid-table obscurity and are on a disappointing run of form since the winter break.

At the bottom, Presov suddenly leapfrog up to 8th with a win at Ruzomberok who are not out of the woods yet.  Dubnica picked up another point at Nitra although they will be disappointed to have conceded an 87th minute equaliser.  A win there would have brought them level with Kosice who remain my favourites for the drop.

A quiet week ahead then, the National Team will presumably be meeting and preparing for the Andorra match next Saturday 26th March at 20:00.  The domestic fun resumes in 12 days!

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Mar 16 2011

Slovakia Squad for Andorra & Denmark

Published by under International

Slovakia coach Vladimir Weiss has announced a surprising selection for his latest squad for the Euro 2012 qualifier in Andorra on 26th March and the friendly with Denmark three days later in Trnava.

The headlines this time concentrate on the inclusion of three players from FK Senica, who had moved top of the domestic league until they dropped points in a 0-0 draw with Zlate Moravce yesterday.  Weiss has selected Filip Lukšík, Tomáš Kóňa and Juraj Piroska in the squad for the first time in a move which must be considered positive for development of the Corgon Liga.  Domestic based players will be inspired and motivated by the recognition for these players who have obviously played an important role in Senica’s success this season.

Defenders Martin Skrtel & Kornel Salata are back in the squad, along with striker Filip Sebo who may be hoping for a starting role following an impressive run of form in the Corgon Liga for Slovan Bratislava.  It is good to see Turkey-based Filip Holosko and Robert Vittek return to the selection up front, but one of these  strikers really needs to start scoring on a regular basis for the Repre to have a serious chance of qualification for Euro 2012.   Obviously Adam Nemec didn’t take his opportunity well enough against Luxembourg and he has been relegated to the reserve list alongside ADO Den Haag’s Frantisek Kubik and Jakob Sylvestr of Dinamo Zagreb.

Interestingly this is the first selection for a long time containing no players from MSK Zilina; even goalkeeper Martin Dubravka, the current subject of speculation over a €1 Million move to Napoli,  seems to have fallen well down the pecking order as Romania based Dusan Kuciak is the reserve to the three British based keepers.

Goalkeepers: Marián Kello (Heart Of Midlothian), Ján Mucha (Everton Liverpool), Dušan Perniš (Dundee United)

Defenders: Marek Čech (West Bromwich Albion), Ján Ďurica (Lokomotiv Moskva), Filip Lukšík (FK Senica), Peter Pekarík (VfL Wolfsburg), Kornel Saláta (FK Rostov), Martin Škrtel (FC Liverpool), Radoslav Zabavník (1. FSV Mainz)

Midfielders: Marek Hamšík (SSC Neapol), Kamil Kopúnek (AS Bari), Tomáš Kóňa (FK Senica), Juraj Kucka (Genoa), Marek Sapara (MKE Ankaragücü), Miroslav Stoch (Fenerbahce Istanbul), Vladimír Weiss (Glasgow Rangers)

Attackers: Filip Hološko (Büyüksehirspor), Erik Jendrišek (SC Freiburg), Juraj Piroska (FK Senica), Filip Šebo (Slovan Bratislava), Stanislav Šesták (MKE Ankaragücü), Róbert Vittek (MKE Ankaragücü)

 

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Mar 15 2011

MSK Zilina 2-0 MFK Kosice – Zilina not yet in Crisis

Published by under Domestic

Of all the things about the mainstream British sports media which get on my nerves – and there are many – perhaps the most annoying is the ‘Big Club in Crisis’ article. Arsenal have no sooner been knocked out of two cup competitions in a week than somebody like Kevin McCarra is wondering whether Arsene Wenger, far from being the genius he appeared to be just seven days earlier, has actually lost the plot. Or Chelsea go four games without a win and the likes of Richard Williams is suggesting that Carlo Ancelotti will soon be history at Stamford Bridge. Forgive me if I’ve got the journalists’ names wrong, by the way, but these articles are so interchangeable it hardly seems to matter. And that’s just the Guardian, a sober, reputable broadsheet. Thank God I never have to look at the British tabloids.

But on Tuesday, at half-time of Žilina’s Corgoň Liga match against Košice, I found myself contemplating the unthinkable ; that I might have to write a ‘Žilina in Crisis’ article. There is no doubt that the transformation at the top of the Slovak league this spring has been dramatic. Žilina, having started the season’s second phase with a six point lead, earned just two points from their first three games, while Senica their nearest pursuers, scored a total of twelve goals in three successive wins to take over at the top. Slovan Bratislava and Trnava also moved closer to Žilina thanks to good starts of their own. We are certainly going to see a title race this spring and, until halfway through Tuesday’s game, Žilina looked anything but the favourites to win it.

Those first 45 minutes were truly poor. Košice do not look a very good side to me but, in three long-range left-footed shots from their lively right winger Martin Juhar, they had the only worthwhile efforts on goal. For Žilina, Zdeno Štrba looked ill at ease, Tomáš Majtán looked alarmingly out of condition and Ivan Lietva looked like he wanted to start a fight. Even Martin Dubravka, who did pull off fine saves from two of those Juhar shots, made a terrible mess of a couple of simple passes out of his penalty area. The agitated home crowd booed the side off when the referee blew the half-time whistle.

During the break, however, two important things happened. The first was that the fan club, though small in number, got together and began to offer the team some semblance of support. Secondly, Pavel Hapal made two substitutions, replacing Ľubomir Guldan with Michal Škvarka and Majtán with Arturs Zjuzins. This also entailed a tactical switch from 4-1-3-2 to 4-1-4-1, with Lietava playing as a lone centre-forward and Momodou Ceesay moving out to the right. With the energy of the 18 year-old Škvarka and the passing of Zjuzins, the team began to play some football. Zjuzins, signed from Ventspils and of Latvian origin, scored the first goal and supplied Lietava with a delightful through ball for the second. Ceesay looked incongruous out on the wing but worked hard, while Lietava, finally channelling his strength and aggression in the right directions, looked dangerous every time the ball came near him. With Senica finally dropping points, Žilina are back at the top of the league. Slovan won too, so the game here on April 1st, Lietava v Dosoudil and all, promises to be a cracker.

The ‘Žilina in Crisis’ article can be put off for now.

There was another intriguing aspect to Tuesday’s game in the shape of the absurd 1530 kick-off time. Match scheduling in Slovakia and the Czech Republic has long been a source of both amusement and frustration to me. On the plus side, it does seem sensible to have games starting earlier during the colder times of year and later when the weather gets hot. This season, the early spring rounds of Slovak league fixtures are mostly scheduled for 1530 kick-offs, while the May games will take place at 1730. I also quite like Petržalka’s habit, which they share with Czech club Viktoria Žižkov, of starting matches at 1030 on Sunday mornings. It works for them, their fans seem to like it and it contributes something to the club’s identity.

But surely there are few arguments in favour of kicking off a midweek match at 1530. Slovak people are working increasingly long hours these days and I would imagine that many fans were unable to leave their offices and get to the ground in time for Tuesday’s game. The same goes for students, many of whom were sitting their written Maturita (school-leaving examination). That said, the crowds for the1530 games were not as bad as I’d expected. Žilina drew 2,186 ; given their form going into the game, they wouldn’t have anticipated many more, even with a  sensible kick-off time. The matches at Ružomberok and Banská Bystrica also attracted respectable attendances, at 1,500 and 1,600 respectively. I’m not sure what conclusions to draw here. Perhaps Slovak football fans work flexible hours after all. Or maybe a little absenteeism has been going on. The Maturita did have an effect, however. Not in the stands, as you might expect, but among the players. Tomáš Kubík and Jozef Skvašík did not travel with their Košice team-mates to Žilina because they were at school, taking their Slovak Language and Literature exams. Let’s hope they passed.

James Baxter

 

 

 

 

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Mar 15 2011

Corgon Liga still wide open

Published by under Domestic

Just a quick post as we find ourselves eagerly anticipating round 22 of the Corgon Liga.  This Tuesday afternoon sees a full round of league fixtures with kick off times showing little respect for hard working fans.

Zilina’s dip in form has coincided with Senica’s post winter break run of played 3, won 3, goals for 12, goals against 0.  This ominously impressive run has seen Senica overtake Zilina at the top of the table.  Today they travel to ViOn Zlate Moravce, who after two wins on the bounce should provide another stern test of Senica’s title credentials.  Each match that Senica win in emphatic style makes it increasingly difficult to ignore the team who took Inter Bratislava’s top flight spot as serious title contenders.  Czech striker Ondrej Smetana is in top form with 6 goals in his last 5 games sending him top of the scorer’s list in Slovakia.

You feel Senica need a win today to maintain top spot as Zilina have an excellent opportunity to get back on track at home against Kosice.  Nothing short of a win will do for Zilina today and if they fail to achieve this, yet more questions will be asked over the wisdom and justification of letting 3 of their key players go in the winter break.

Despite going a goal down, Trnava stormed back to a 4-1 home victory over Nitra at the weekend and they travel to face a poor Ruzomberok side.  3 points for Trnava and any points dropped by the top 2 will see things tighten up even more at the top, and that puts added pressure on Slovan Bratislava who take on DAC Dunajska Streda in definitely the match of the round.  Slovan failed to gain maximum points at Dubnica on Saturday despite a decent travelling contingent swelling the attendance to a [reported] figure of 4,500.  Still 8 points off the pace, they will definitely be tested again at home today against a DAC side who impressively held Zilina to a draw on Friday night.

A minute’s silence will be held ahead of the match in honour of Jan Popluhar, the former Slovan player who made 62 appearances for Czechoslovakia in the 50s and 60s.  One hopes that this mark of respect will set the tone for this flash point match and that we see a spectacle off the pitch and a lively but friendly atmosphere off it.  Unfortunately I am not in Bratislava for this one!

Nitra face Tatran Presov and free-falling Dukla Banska Bystrica host bottom of the table Dubnica in the other fixtures.  It will be very interesting to see how things stand this evening.

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Mar 08 2011

Slovan Bratislava 4-0 Tatran Presov

Published by under Domestic

Vstante, ked’ ste belasi


On-the-field action returned to the Slovak capital for the first time since 27th November 2010.  As the autumn season came to a close what seems like an age ago, the relationship between Slovan Bratislava and their fans had deteriorated to such an extent that attendances were plummeting at an equally alarming rate as the 2008/09 Champions’ league position – a lowly 5th after 18 games raising real concerns over even the minimum return of Europa League qualification, in reality the fans round here want Championships and Champions League qualifications.

It is hard to pinpoint exactly went wrong during the first half of the season.  The club was probably on a hiding to nothing with the fans after failing, for the second consecutive season, to announce any firm plans over a renovation or new build of the beloved Tehelne Pole.  The fans dislike of their current temporary home coupled with poor league performances and elimination before the group stage of the Europa League meant that much hard work was required by those with Slovan in their hearts, both on and off the pitch.

As the spring season starts, evidence of that hard work is plentiful.  A former Belasa Slachta member has been employed as PR manager of the football club and will be working as a direct liason with the fans.  This shows that the club have surely realised the effect the fans have over their players’ performances.  With the leaders seemingly pointing in the same direction, much hard work is still needed by Belasa Slachta.  Slovan potentially have a large and passionate following, they just need to distance themselves from the unpleasant element and concentrate on supporting their team through good and bad times.

As far as the players are concerned, they have been working harder than ever during the close season.  Altitude training camps and a testing friendly program appear to have been judged just right to bring the best out of a strong squad this spring.

speaking of altitude training camps, I'll have a beer & a hot dog please!

I arrived just in time for the match, paid my €4 entry and rushed up a random flight of stairs, seeing the players walking out I figured better run back down the stairs, grab a beer [€1.20] and head for an area just to the side of this week’s ‘kotol’ the ‘ultras’ section, which had been migrating to different parts of Pasienky, before finally disintegrating completely at the end of 2010.

kotol returns

 

Now, I’d bought my flag all the way from Holland and was determined to hang it for the first time at this match.  I have two ‘Britski Belasi’ flags, one of which is a Slovakia flag intended to show my support for the National Team and Slovak players around Europe.  The other is a Union Jack that was made while Britski Belasi was nothing more than a catch phrase for a British lad who wanted to start following his local team in Bratislava.  Now I’ve learned a lot since then and the image of a Union Jack is perhaps not to everyone’s taste, however I am proud of it and the embroidery work that went into the Slovan badge is too good to leave it collecting dust.  So I hopped down over a few rows of seats and hung the flag off the fence.  Seemingly unnoticed, I hopped back, took a big gulp of my beer and observed from a distance.  Job done, like it or not, I’m happy with it, this is my first flag and it will follow me on my travels with Slovan.

Vstante, ked’ ste belasi

 

 

"Leave your heart on the pitch", or just to the side of it ;-)

 

I’d managed all this and the match still hadn’t kicked off, the only thing I wasn’t aware of was the reaction, if any, given by the Slovan fans to Presov coach Ladislav Pecko, the last Championship winning coach of Slovan who was consequently sacked, in 2009.  I’d read that they wanted to acknowledge him, and the atmosphere was certainly friendly on this sunny Saturday afternoon.

plenty more gools this season please

 

Presov brought a travelling support of 9 [nine] including two flags, positioned up in the far corner in the ridiculously fenced away section [the fences remain after the Crvena Zvezda game and haven’t been touched since, it seems].  Slovan fans certainly weren’t bothered about the away support, or the away team for that matter.  Not one anti-Presov song was heard, I think these teams quite like each other.

this one's for you, Mr Last

The match quickly settled into a pattern, Slovan dominating possession and showing their superiority as they would have expected to do against a Presov team who struggle on the road.  An early penalty was awarded after a fairly soft-looking push, Slovan captain Igor Zofcak eventually scoring from the rebound after his original effort was saved.  As Zilina discovered last week though, Presov are no mugs, and they showed some threatening signs on the counter attack.  Either Presov were off the pace today, or Slovan’s defence was functioning perfectly, but any attack by the visitors ended with an offside flag, it must have been frustrating for Pecko and the nine fans up in the far corner.

Slovan’s second came from a header by Kresimir Kordic, I think the cross was supplied by Zofcak, most things were going through him at this stage.  Kordic, together with Akos Szarka formed an unfamiliar looking strike-force for the home team.  Szarka worked hard and showed some good touches, it seems like Slovan have plenty of strength in the attacking department.

More noteworthy for myself though were the performances in Slovan’s midfield.  Zofcak looked assured and led by example, excellent technique, creative and prepared to shoot from distance.  Based on this performance, James Baxter’s case for Karim Guede to be recognized as one of the most consistent performers in the Corgon Liga in recent seasons cannot be disputed. The player with Togolese routes is on the verge of gaining Slovak citizenship and will be a welcome addition to the National team if and when that is finally sorted.  At 26 he seems to be in the form of his life.

Guede strides forward

With new signing Marko Milinkovic, Erik Grendel & Filip Kiss all fighting for places in the midfield and a solid defence even without Dosoudil, Slovan’s squad looks to be in good shape, possibly worrying for a Zilina side now fighting to hold on to top spot without established players Tomas Oravec, Robert Jez and Mario Pecalka who all left in the winter.  When Filip Sebo came off the bench for Slovan midway through the second half, it was fantastic to see him add two more goals to a game that had become too comfortable for Slovan and had threatened to peter out.  Four-nil probably a fair reflection of a comfortable afternoon for Slovan.

4-0 thanks very much

As the sun went down beyond the distant floodlights of Tehelne Pole, Slovan fans were obviously content with their team’s performance.  The emotion when they sing for Tehelne Pole is impressive and it’s the only time when other sections of the stadium join the singing.

 

"Tehlne Pole, Tehlne Pole, Tehlne Poleeee .. repeat until fade"

Six points still separate Slovan from Zilina at the top, and after their 0-5 win at Nitra, Senica have to be considered ever more serious title contenders.  However, as quickly as a side can drop in Slovakia, it can rise again, and while the fans will never accept Pasienky as home, it could yet be the scene of a minor miracle this spring.

 

plenty more seats to be filled here

As acknowledged in this morning’s Sport by Igor Zofcak and Martin Dobrotka, the players really recognize the support of the fans.  For the first time at this stadium, before leaving the pitch, the players came over to the fans to join in the ‘emotivnu choreografiu’ –

“ Vstante, ked’ ste belasi // Stand-up if you’re belasi ”

I was certainly standing.

Attendance: 2,515

 

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