Archive for April, 2011

Apr 27 2011

FC Nuremberg v FSV Mainz [with a hint of Slovakia]

Published by under Bundesliga

FC Nuremberg v FSV Mainz would not normally leap out of the Bundesliga calendar screaming ‘I’m the season’s must-see fixture’ but the league table in the week ahead of it, and the fact that only three rounds of games were to follow, suggested that it was effectively going to be a shoot-out to decide which of the two sides would take Germany’s final Europa League place.

Every game is a big game in the Bundesliga

Also, with Marek Mintal and Róbert Mak in the home ranks, and Radoslav Zabavník and Miroslav Karhan contracted to Mainz, there was potential interest for those who hold Slovak football close to their hearts. It had been clear for a while, however, that we might have to be content with only one Slovak making an appearance. Zabavník and Karhan have been injured and the latter, contracted to Spartak Trnava for the 2011/2012 season, has fallen out with FSV coach Thomas Tuchel. Mintal is still a hero at Nuremberg – he was recently voted by fans into the club’s all-time best XI and, of the current squad, his name appears most frequently on replica shirts – but he makes only rare substitute appearances these days. So it was Mak, an exciting young attacking player who has figured in Slovakia’s Under-21 side, who offered hope that we would, after all, see a Slovak in action.

This was my first ever experience of German football and it would be remiss to launch into a description of on-field events without at least trying to convey a sense of the overall ‘experience’. Nuremburg’s ground is out of town. On hearing those words, anyone familiar with modern English grounds would be conjuring up images of a faceless industrial park or placeless shopping-centre. Instead, the Frankenstadion is in an area of huge historical significance. It is close to the Nazi Party’s old congress-hall and rally grounds, large parts of which returned, after the war, to their original use as recreational parkland. The Volkfest, a cross between a fair and a food and beer festival, was taking place there on the day of the Mainz game and huge numbers of fans were already enjoying the festivities by the time we arrived, a full four hours before kick-off.

"we love you Volksfest, we do, we love you Volksfest we do..."

The stadium itself is not one of Germany’s most spectacular. With its apparently light building materials and sleek but rather bland floodlights, it looks as if it was constructed with a careful eye on the budget. But it is interesting nonetheless. Its octagonal shape is unusual and the vast outdoor (but largely shaded) concourse is an ideal place to enjoy more food and beer, if by some strange oversight, you didn’t get enough of either at the Volkfest.

The Approach

Inside, you realise, partly due to the sunken level of the pitch, that the initially modest look of the ground is deceptive. And once the place fills up – all 48,548 tickets had sold out well in advance of this fixture – you know that the running-track round the pitch is not going to negatively affect the atmosphere. The noise and flag-waving of the home fans as the players took the field were simply magnificent and never let up during the game, even though the 90 minutes were to prove rather frustrating. Mainz had been given a fairly small allocation – it would be interesting to know if visiting clubs are ever offered bigger ones – but their supporters, many of whom appeared to be making an Easter weekend away of it, were also in decent voice.

Feel the buzz

It was obvious before the game that Nuremberg, two points behind their opponents and with harder fixtures ahead, needed to go for the win, while Mainz’s principle aim would be to avoid defeat. Once the action had started, it was also clear that the visitors knew how to best fulfil their aims and that the home team didn’t have what was required to break them down. The closest Nuremberg came to a goal was when Mehmet Ekici hit the post with a curling shot direct from a free-kick. For their part, Mainz had two clear opportunities, both of which resulted from mistakes by the hosts but Elkin Soto (in the first-half) and the otherwise impressive André Schurrle (late on) missed them.

As we’d anticipated, Mak came on for the final 15 minutes and showed that he has both considerable potential and also a few things to learn. His pace gave Nuremberg a dimension they’d been missing but it was his loss of possession, in failing to anticipate a pass, that led to Schurrle’s chance. He was also involved in a moment of high controversy in the very last minute of the match. The Mainz centre-backs inexplicably allowed a long ball to sail over their heads and, as it bounced behind them, goalkeeper Christian Wetklo, racing from his goal, scooped it away from the advancing Mak with his hand. The keeper himself was clearly outside his penalty area when he made contact with the ball, the question was where the ball was. TV replays later confirmed initial impressions that it had not crossed the 18-yard line and that Nuremberg should thus have had a free-kick and Wetklo shown a red card. Dodgy last minute decisions in a tight, important game? Where else, I wonder, have we heard that recently?

I don’t want to labour the Slovakia comparison too much. The packed S-Bahn train to Nuremberg city-centre afterwards certainly bore no similarities to the experience of getting away from a Žilina, Slovan or Dubnica match. What I will say is that the relative dullness of  Nuremberg v Mainz didn’t detract at all from one of the best football days out I’m ever likely to have. Premier League chief exceutive (or whatever his title is) Richard Scudamore ought to be dragged along to a Bundesliga match (by the hair if necessary). He should experience the beer-drinking, the conviviality, the atmosphere in the stadium, the fact that the 90 minutes forms just one part of a day of fun and enjoyment and then try to tell us, with his face straight, that he still believes the English top division offers the best all-round entertainment in the world.

Meanwhile, I will try to get my excitement up for Žilina v Senica on Friday evening. If it has to be a draw, and I fear it will be, I hope there will at least be some goals. I’m happy to forgive the 0-0 in Germany but could do without seeing another one back on home soil.

James Baxter

Souvenir t-shirt, tick. Pint of German beer, tick. Happy James Baxter, tick!

 

 

 

 

7 responses so far

Apr 26 2011

League in Slovan’s ‘Hands’

Published by under Domestic

There is a remarkable similarity in the way the stars have aligned over the last few weeks for the domestic giants of the two leagues I have been following this season.

In Holland, Ajax have somehow come from nowhere and manoeuvred themselves into a position where they will [assuming they don't bugger things up away at Heerenveen] play against FC Twente twice in 8 days to contest both the Cup and the Eredivisie Championship.  This title has eluded Ajax for so long, the atmosphere in that last match promises to be absolutely incredible.  Whether or not they are favourites I’m not so sure, but after the mid-season break Ajax would have never expected to be in such a position.

The same can be said of Slovan Bratislava in Slovakia.  Going into the winter break Slovan sat well adrift of MSK Zilina in the league, but are currently going about proving exactly what hard work throughout the break and a positive string of results can bring come the Spring.

FK Senica did a good job of messing up our accumulator bets before the weekend had even started, drawing 1-1 against Kosice on Friday evening.  One week earlier, Senica played on Friday, won comfortably at free-falling DAC and had their feet up while Slovan & Zilina sweated under pressure to keep up with 3 points on the Saturday.  This week it was different, and apparently the pressure told and they dropped points in a match where they really needed the maximum.

MSK Zilina’s travelling fans swelled the crowd at MFK Ruzomberok to 3,778 [about 3x the average] but despite the best efforts of the fans, their team were unable to break down the home side’s defence.  Tomas Majtan was really unlucky with a couple of efforts and Zilina had much the better of the match, but as James feared, they have dropped points just at the wrong time.

As Zilina struggled to put the ball in the back of Ruzomberok’s net, the same was happening in Nitra as Slovan’s resurgent full-strength team also struggled to engineer a goal in the Spring sunshine.  Shots reigned in from distance, Sebo looked desperately for a break, but it just wasn’t coming for Slovan, until the 89th minute.  A hopeful ball was lofted into the box, Martin Dobrotka went up and got to the ball, just ahead of the Nitra keeper, and it ended up in the back of the net.  The Nitra players were outraged, pictures and videos conclusively reveal that Dobrotka scored with a Diego Maradona style ‘hand-of-God’ effort.  It cannot be disputed, it was pretty clear, just the referee and linesman failed to spot it and disallow the goal so the result stands.  It is unfortunate that Slovan won this match in this way, and the fans of Nitra, Senica and Zilina are rightly upset, and even outraged by the decision.  This could go a long way to deciding the league title and will no doubt add fire to the conspiracy theories, and add to the dislike of Slovan throughout the country.

Personally I’m a bit disappointed about it too.  I wonder how Dobrotka feels, how the players can really celebrate a victory in this way against a team who gave everything in defence for 90 minutes.  I’m not complaining about the result, or the way the league table stands right now, and I am satisfied that Slovan had the better of the match against Nitra and probably deserved the 3 points, it’s just a pity that one of the long distance shots from Zofcak, Milinkovic, Guede or Grendel didn’t fly in the top corner rather than this.  It would be better for the sporting feeling, the feeling of satisfaction we get out of our teams winning football matches.

I’m not in Slovakia at the moment, and haven’t seen what has been written in the papers.  I’d be interested to know of course, although I fear I can already imagine a lot of what is being said and written through my contact with the social networks.

Anyway, nothing can be done about it, so we move on.   Slovan have overtaken Zilina on goal difference and move into a position where the league title is now in their own hands.  Next week they have a relatively comfortable home-fixture against Ruzomberok while Zilina host Senica in a match which could significantly dent the title challenge of one of the teams. Whatever happens in that match, next Wednesday sees an equally massive game as Slovan visit the small town of 20,000 inhabitants.

There is a lot of exciting football coming up but there’s still a long way to go, each team still has 6 more games to play. One thing is for certain, the next 10 days promise to contribute a lot to how things will turn out in the Corgon Liga .. let’s hope we can get back to discussing it for the right reasons .. and the good news is I will be right there!

For video highlights of the Slovan game, click here.  The ‘hand-of-God’ incident occurs after approx 2:00 minutes!

As usual, comments welcome …

3 responses so far

Apr 20 2011

Corgon Liga Week 27 Preview

Published by under Domestic

Last week’s Corgoň Liga preview didn’t turn out too embarrassingly, partly, it has to be said, because I didn’t actually make many concrete predictions, settling instead for  questions (real rather than rhetorical) such as ‘is this Dubnica’s chance to finally record that elusive first spring victory?‘ or tentative suggestions along the lines that ‘(Prešov) should see this fixture as an opportunity to earn at least a draw.‘ Still, the one result is that I’m happy to have another go ahead of the coming weekend’s games.

At the top of the league, Senica once again go first and thus have the opportunity to extend their lead, temporarily at least, to five points. They face Košice at home in front of the Digi Sport cameras on Friday night and, while the 0-0 draw against Dubnica in their previous home game might play on their minds a little, it’s difficult to imagine them being made to work unduly hard. To have any chance at all, Košice will need a more reliable goalkeeping performance than that produced last week by Darko Tofiloski, who made two horrendous mistakes to gift victory to Ružomberok. 2-0 to Senica I think.

Assuming that prediction is correct, Senica will then put their feet up on Saturday while Žilina and Slovan Bratislava go to work. Žilina travel to Ružomberok and will be concerned by the hosts‘ revival under Ladislav Jurkemík as well as by their own recent away form. They still seem the least convincing of the top three sides and I sense that this game could well finish in a draw. Slovan, meanwhile, are at Nitra. The home side probably need one more win to be absolutely safe from relegation but are unlikely to claim it in this game. Slovan’s Filip Šebo will extend his excellent run of goalscoring form and the points will return to the capital.

Banská Bystrica and Vion Zlaté Moravce, who play each other on Saturday, are two sides who will continue to believe that a fourth-placed finish to the season is a possibility. Bystrica have had a disappointing spring so far but appear to have more creative flair and goalscoring potential at their disposal than their visitors. Vion have had a fine season for a newly-promoted side but find it difficult to trouble the league’s better teams when, as is the case at present, they have key players missing. Expect Bystrica to win here and then go on a decent run over the season’s closing weeks.

Trnava v DAC Dunajská Streda is a meeting of two clubs whose amateurishness at boardroom level is being reflected by results on the field. Trnava fans, still angry at the sacking of Dušan Radolský, are boycotting home fixtures, the team can’t score goals away from home and an awful first-half saw them knocked out of the cup by Slovan on Tuesday. But DAC, like an injured rabbit far from the safety of its burrow, are easy prey for anyone at the moment. It won‘t mean much to the locals, but Trnava will prevail in this game.

The most interesting fixture is probably the one in Prešov, where Dubnica are the visitors. Dubnica finally managed to win last Saturday, after weeks of promising but unrewarding performances. Now, assuming Košice lose at Senica, this is their chance to drag themselves off the bottom of the league. A clean sheet – and they’ve kept five of those in their eight spring games – would do it, while an away win would cause renewed palpitations for Prešov. The eastern side took advantage of Vion being reduced to 10 men to earn a rare away victory last weekend and they will be desperate not to waste that good work on their own ground. I prefer to disregard the kind of rationality that suggests teams are usually where they deserve to be after 26 games and cling instead to a feeling that both Prešov and Dubnica are better than their league positions would indicate. I also think this meeting will result in a share of the points.

Finally, one thing that did take me by surprise last week was the number of goals ; a respectable 17 in the six fixtures. Hopefully that’s a trend that will continue.

James Baxter

3 responses so far

Apr 19 2011

Cup Semi Final Crunch Time

Published by under Domestic,Pohar

Tonight sees the 2nd legs of the two semi-finals of the domestic cup in Slovakia.  I must admit when the two Manchester teams entered the field at Wembley last Saturday I felt a certain excitement at the fact the English FA Cup semi-finals now have to be decided on the day.  No replays, just extra time, penalties, whatever it takes, there will be a winner.

Having attended the 1st leg of Slovan Bratislava v Spartak Trnava 2 weeks ago, on a pleasant evening, under floodlights, I can’t help but feel disappointed that these matches are played over 2 legs.  Although the discussion over neutral grounds is a complicated one in Slovakia [last season Slovan & Trnava played the final on the other side of the country] the situation still exists that if Slovan make the final this season they will play on ‘home’ turf.  However, with Slovan and Pasienky, home turf is a term that can be used very loosely, the fans hate the place and it’s hardly an intimidating atmosphere for visiting sides.

Also, a significant number of Spartak fans probably stayed away from the first leg knowing the real showdown would be on their patch 2 weeks later.  Having said all this, the first leg was a good game, hardly a humdinger, but not bad, by Slovak standards.  Slovan came back to 2-2 having gone 0-2 down, surrendering a slight advantage to their bitter rivals going into tonight’s 2nd leg.

In terms of form, Slovan should be able to overcome the slight handicap of Trnava’s two away goals.  Slovan recently won 3-1 at Trnava in the league and are on a superb run of form comprising of 5 straight league victories.  On paper Slovan have a stronger team and should expect to win again tonight, when it really counts.  Trnava by contrast have realised they cannot keep touch at the top of the league and lost to bottom of the table Dubnica last weekend.

Writing this makes me realise that perhaps Trnava have targetted the cup as their ticket into Europe next season.  If they haven’t, they bloody well should!  Zilina and Slovan are locked in a high-pressure race for the Championship and Trnava could easily bring home silverware or, as their fans may even prefer, sneak into Europe just by making the final should they, as expected, face Zilina in the final [please correct me if I'm wrong!]

Slovan’s fans sense silverware this season, and will expect 100% from their team tonight, to keep alive an ambitious quest for a league and cup double.  If Slovan do not give everything to win this match, I would expect serious questions to be asked as they have a squad with enough strength in depth to handle a mid-week fixture in addition to league duties at the weekend.

So, the tie is tantalisingly poised, and as is always the case with derby games, especially in cup semi-finals, anything is possible!  It will be interesting to see the size of tonight’s crowd, and I fully expect them to witness a thoroughly entertaining match.  Given a 2-2 scoreline from the first leg, extra time is unlikely, and the longer Trnava don’t score the more nervous they will surely become.  I am confident Slovan will do the job tonight and progress to the final.

By stark contrast, in the other tie Zilina travel to Zlate Moravce with a 3-0 advantage from the home leg.  Zlate Moravce, lacking a goalscoring threat, should struggle to get past Zilina’s tight defence, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Zilina win comfortably and extend their aggregate lead.  This is a pity as it would have been good to see one of the smaller teams in the final.  Zilina will arrive at Pasienky having hardly broken sweat in this season’s competition, MFK Kosice being the only top flight team they have faced prior to ZM.

My prediction for the final?

MSK Zilina v Slovan Bratislava

5 responses so far

Apr 14 2011

Corgoň Liga Round 26 Preview / Review

Published by under Domestic

I think I performed a decent PR service for the Corgoň Liga earlier this week when I wrote, on www.sfunion.net, that it features a three-way title race which will offer plenty of twists and turns over the coming weeks. What I failed to mention was that the goals have dried up. Of last weekend’s six fixtures, two finished as 0-0 draws and three more as 1-0 home victories. Those who turned up in Trnava to see Spartak defeat Prešov by the odd goal in three should think themselves lucky.

It may be, of course, that the tight situation at the top of the league and a far from resolved relegation battle are causing teams to adopt a defensive mindset. If that is true, we should not expect many goals this weekend either, since all games will have some bearing on matters at one or other end of the table.

First up is DAC Dunajská Streda v Senica on Friday evening. Senica will be looking to consolidate their two-point lead over second-placed Žilina and ought to be confident of doing so against a home side that appears to be in the midst of a particularly chaotic free fall. Threatening coach Mikuláš Radványi with the sack has, unsurprisingly, failed to arrest DAC’s slide so now their board have decided to appoint a sporting director, in the form of ex-Prešov coach Roman Pivarník. Neither Pivarník nor Radványi appear to know exactly what their responsibilities are but have made an unconvincing sounding agreement to divide the work between them. Expect confusion to reign in the DAC camp and Senica to go home with the points.

Saturday’s early game sees Dubnica take on Trnava. Dubnica remain three points adrift at the bottom of the table despite several encouraging performances over the last three weeks, including draws with each of the top three. Their problem is a chronic inability to convert attractive football into goals and thus draws into wins. Trnava, meanwhile, have off-field difficulties which culminated in a fan-club boycott of last week’s game against Prešov. Is this Dubnica’s chance to finally record that elusive first spring victory?

Neither MFK Košice, just one place above Dubnica, nor MFK Ružomberok, a further two places and four points ahead, can feel safe from relegation just yet. Their meeting on Saturday, therefore, promises to be a nervous, low-scoring affair. Košice were unlucky to lose to a late, spectacular Nitra goal last week, while Ruža, under new-old coach Ladislav Jurkemík (he was sacked last October but brought back a fortnight ago), recorded a narrow win over DAC and a second successive clean sheet.

A goal feast is also unlikely at Zlaté Moravce where Vion face Prešov. Vion are perfectly safe in mid-table but, lacking the creativity of injured captain Peter Kuračka and short of mobility up-front, they will probably continue their emphasis on defensive solidity. Prešov, five points clear of Dubnica, look just about good enough to stay up and should see this fixture as an opportunity to earn at least a draw.

Nitra, who looked in big trouble just a month ago, will travel to Žilina relatively free of worries. With ten points from their last four games, three of which were against the bottom three, they have banished fears of relegation. History suggests they could do well on Saturday too ; they were the only team to win at Žilina in the league last season and the only one to earn a point there during Pavel Vrba’s 2006/2007 title-winning season. As for Žilina, the only goals they have conceded in their last five league and cup matches are the three awarded to Slovan Bratislava by the SFZ disciplinary committee last week. On the down side, they have struggled painfully going forward, failing to create a single decent chance at Banská Bystrica last Saturday. One prediction I will make for the Nitra game is that, if Žilina fail to score in the first twenty minutes or so, the home crowd might well turn on them.

Slovan v Bystrica concludes the programe later on Saturday evening. To add a personal touch to this preview, I enjoyed my visit to Pasienky last Saturday. The sun shone, the welcome, at turnstiles and sausage stand alike, was friendly, and the beer, food and company couldn’t have been bettered. I would have enjoyed myself that bit more if Slovan’s ineffectiveness had lasted another ten minutes or so. It didn’t, of course, partly because Zlaté Moravce, having looked perfectly at ease for most of the game, inexplicably began to panic and partly because Slovan have Filip Šebo. The only striker of proven class in the entire league, Šebo was just where he needed to be to score what might yet be a crucial winning goal. He will probably repeat the feat this weekend and, in the process, ensure the continuation of the run of ominously good results that has seen Slovan emerge as a genuine championship contender.

James Baxter

5 responses so far

Apr 11 2011

Successful first bloggers’ meet in Bratislava

Published by under Domestic

On a beautifully sunny, albeit rather windy, weekend in Bratislava, we organised the first ‘get-together’ of – let’s call it ‘Friends of the Site’.  I think all of us would agree that one of the key motivations for running a blog like this is to provide a medium for like-minded people to discuss their – rather unconventional – interests.

For us obviously, the interest lies specifically in Czech and Slovak football, ground-hopping and any combination of the above. Discussion on the internet is wonderful, and as I say, is one of the largely motivations for the contributors to this blog, however I believe there is real scope for meeting up and continuing the discussions further, usually over the course of a football match and several pivos.

Our outline itinerary consisted of Slovan Bratislava v Vion Zlate Moravce in the Corgon Liga on Saturday afternoon, followed by FC Petrzalka 1898 v AS Trencin in Division 1 on the Sunday.   Ralph Davies was down from Brno for the whole weekend, Zilina fan and regular blog-contributor James Baxter begrudgingly handed over his cash at the Pasienky turnstiles to watch Slovan on the Saturday and we were joined by Vienna-based groundhopper and founder of the ‘Petrzalka-La Coruna‘ friendship link Jose-Luis Pinyero on Sunday.  Also regular commenter and Petrzalka fan of 15-years Mr Stary Jazvec joined the fun on the Sunday morning.

A few of my own personal highlights from the weekend:

  • Joint Britski-Belasi & FC Brno flaggage at Slovan on the Saturday.  These clubs have a well known friendship & the flags seemed to be very well received at the game.

Friendship Flags

  • Exceptional chicken-steaks from the Pasienky mobile food-stands, highly recommended, especially when washed down with a €1 pint of Budvar.
  • Filip Sebo’s 83rd minute winner for Slovan closing the gap with Zilina to 2 points and Senica to 4 points.  The title race in Slovakia is very much alive.
  • Post-Slovan match discussion of the merits of football blogging including mutual agreement on several of our favourite football blogs. A big shout out to the inspirational guys running  The Ball is Round, European Football Weekends, In Bed With Maradona and Gannin’ Away .  Hopefully we’ll all meet up again in the not-too-distant ..
  • 10:30 am [kick-off-time] beers at Petrzalka on Sunday.
  • The wonderful old Rapid ground, current home of FC Petrzalka 1898.

    New home of 'Zalka. Groundhoppers paradise.

  • Meeting Slovan & Slovakia striker Filip Sebo, who had spent his Sunday morning watching his former club.

britskibelasi meets Filip Sebo

  • Meeting Petrzalka’s oldest and maddest fan, Laszko.  A few rants aside, he was a friendly chap, and together with his mates, even bought us a beer.  Top man, I’m sure he was one of the 3 Petrzalka fans at the last derby I went to at the old Tehelne Pole.  Next stop for Laszko, Puchov away next weekend!

Please Jazvec, don't tell this chap I like Slovan!

  • The quality of AS Trencin.  They are 21 points clear for a reason and are clearly way too good for this league.  The quality of young players coming through at Trencin is seriously impressive and we were privileged to watch them play for just €2 entrance fee.  Jose-Luis met the Spanish speaking contingent from Trencin including Jorge Salinas who scored 2 fantastic goals, and they were totally surprised and overwhelmed by his interest.  A VIP invite was even acquired to their inevitable Championship celebrations in 2 weeks time.
  • A nostalgic visit to the old Petrzalka stadium.  What awaited us there will go down in the story-telling yore of all present, but how sad it is to see a stadium simply falling apart, totally neglected. The concrete and steel work remains in decent enough condition to re-use but the current plan for FC Petrzalka is to relocate to their own, new, custom-built 3,000 capacity ground back in their own suburb.  Whether the planned Hilton Hotel will ever be built on this site remains very much to be seen.  In the meantime, a homeless guy, a cat, a dog & skateboarders continue to have free-reign of the place while Petrzalka’s players try to carve out a career for themselves, currently unpaid for 3 months in Division 1.

VIP stand

 

Petrzalka Stadium, been like this for 4 years already ..

I sincerely hope all participants enjoyed the weekend as much as I did.  Thanks to everyone for attending and their great respective inputs.  Very much looking forward to the next meet-up and hopefully we will continue to build our numbers.

9 responses so far

Apr 08 2011

WHAT A WEEK IN SLOVAK FOOTBALL!!

Published by under Domestic

Readers may or may not have picked up on events over the last, quite tumultuous of weeks in Slovak Football.  James Baxter does a simply superb job of summarising everything. Read, and enjoy!

MŠK Žilina seem to have spent more time answering to Slovak football‘s powers-that-be this week than some ill-behaved school students spend in the headteacher’s office in a year. The reasons, of course, are well-known by now ; the assault on assistant referee Roman Slyško by MŠK fan Ľubomir Krajčík in the 90th minute of last Friday’s home Corgoň Liga game with Slovan Bratislava and the lax security that allowed it to happen.

Three punishments have been handed out. Firstly, Žilina have forfeited the game, in which they looked like they would hold on for a fortunate 0-0 draw, by a 3-0 scoreline. This is right and was always going to happen according to SFZ rules. Žilina‘s protestations that the game could have continued after a calming-down period are, to my mind, ridiculous. The match-officials have a perfect right to end a game early when their or the players’ safety is compromised, as it was in this case. End of game, end of story.

The second punishment is a more interesting one. Žilina will be forced to play two games behind closed doors IF there are further outbreaks of trouble or lapses of security at their ground within the next six months. People will have their opinions on this I’m sure but again I think it’s a reasonable judgement. There are, surprisingly, no precedents for a case of exactly this type in Slovak football but, if you look at other recent examples of clubs having their grounds closed, the argument that Žilina have been dealt with fairly begins to take some shape. DAC Dunajská Streda were forced to close their stadium with immediate effect after violent scenes (which resulted in 30 people requiring hospital treatment) at a game with Slovan in 2008/2009. Košice were handed a similar punishment after a number of their fans attacked stewards with flagpoles at a game earlier this season. The adjudication passed on Žilina seems to recognise that last Friday’s incident did, on the face of it, involve less violence than the others mentioned here yet has extremely serious implications and must not happen again.

Finally, Žilina have been hit with a 10,000 Euro fine for failing to ensure proper security. Again, fair enough. Stewards do have a difficult job but if there is a time when they need to be on their guard it is the 90th minute of a match which is still in the balance and has been tense and controversial for pretty much its entire duration. How they allowed Mr Krajčík, hardly the most athletic specimen if newspaper pictures of him are anything to go by, to get past them unapprehended is a question that needs answering.

On top of sanctions handed out to the club, Žilina right-back Stanislav Angelovič has been banned for six games for his unsporting behaviour towards Slyško as the officials prepared to leave the field on Friday. Yet again, the punishment fits the crime. Angelovič put hands on the assistant and appeared to attempt to push him back towards the centre of the pitch. SFZ accept that the player’s actions were not ‘aggressive in intent’ but they were certainly disrespectful and implied an attempt to prevent the officials doing what they were absolutely within their rights to do.

In addition, the SFZ were commendably quick to rescind the red card shown to Momodou Ceesay against Slovan. Match referee Pavol Chmura’s original judgement that Ceesay had dived in an attempt to win a penalty in the 70th minute resulted in the player receiving his second booking of the evening. Replays, however, revealed that, although Slovan midfielder Filip Kiss’s challenge had been fair, Ceesay was powerless to stay on his feet as a result of it and thus hadn’t dived. Yet again, the committee’s decision, which cleared Ceesay to play what turned out to be a starring role in his sides cup semi-final win on Tuesday, was demonstrably a correct and fair one

But I am troubled by other issues raised by Chmura’s performance. Very questionable for me is the SFZ decision to award a retrospective yellow card to Kiss for a 44th minute foul on Ceesay that should have seen Žilina given a penalty. The authorities are creating a dangerous precedent there as well as, potentially, an awful lot of unnecessary work for themselves ; surely they don’t plan to watch replay after replay of every league match in order to determine which players, if any, deserve to be punished after the event.

But my biggest concerns arise from an interview with Chmura given in Wednesdays Šport. Headlined, ‘Sorry Žilina’, the interview attempts to explain why the referee made the decisions he did and gives reasons why the game was a difficult one to control. I see no need for any of this. Anyone with a sense of fairness knows how hard it can be for a referee to get a crucial decision correct in a split-second. The two involving Ceesay were especially tough and I can imagine a lot of replays were needed before the committee men were finally able to come to the right conclusions. I would also say there is no real need for Chmura to apologise to Žilina as a club. Again, clubs should know that key decisions do occasionally go against them, sometimes more than once in a game. If Chmura had simply acknowledged that Ceesay had been sent off incorrectly, it would have been enough.

More disturbing still is the way the interview, having extracted an admission of mistakes, then seems to require the referee to publicly prostrate himself. ‘Did you sleep well after the game?’ it asks, as though readers with Žilina sympathies have a right to know whether or not Chmura suffered. Even worse, though, is that the official found it necessary to refer to the difficult atmosphere surrounding the match. There are already enough football followers in Slovakia ready to peddle conspiracy theories without referees, consciously or not, giving them more ammunition.

Dušan Krchňák, head of the SFZ referees commission, doesn’t help matters either by hinting, in another Šport interview, that Chmura was in the middle for Žilina v Slovan almost by default since other referees are from either Žilina or Bratislava or were otherwise unacceptable to one or other of the clubs. There are clearly problems in Slovak football, some of them concerning referees, and someone, preferably someone completely neutral, needs to come out and talk about them. But that someone should not have been Chmura.

It is regrettable that these issues are under discussion at a time when the Corgoň Liga championship race has become genuinely exciting. Žilina and Slovan remain in the mix, of course, and face Banská Bystrica and Zlaté Moravce respectively this weekend. But top of the league are Senica. They should consolidate their lead tomorrow against bottom of the table Dubnica and will, no doubt, be quite happy to go about their work almost unnoticed as the rest of us get ourselves worked up over Žilina and Slovan. Whatever the results, it will be nice if we only have on-field events to talk about once the games are over.

James Baxter

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Apr 06 2011

Slovak Cup Semi-Finals

Published by under Pohar

MSK Zilina v ViOn Zlate Moravce

Normally I would be lamenting the fact that the Slovak Cup is as low-key as it is. It’s at the semi-final stage now, after all, and offers the reward of a Europa League place to the eventual winners, so it should be at least starting to generate some interest.

But, setting out for Tuesday’s Žilina v Zlaté Moravce semi-final first-leg match, I felt like Friday night’s Corgoň Liga clash between Žilina and Slovan Bratislava had provided enough excitement, much of it of the wrong kind, for the time being. A relatively obscure occasion, of interest only to the faithful few, was actually quite a welcome prospect.

Familiarity is a word I would apply not only to the stoical season-ticket holders who inhabit West Stand Block D at the Štadión pod Dubňom. It is also an increasingly appropriate description of my relationship with Zlaté Moravce ; I’ve now seen them play four times this season and feel I’m getting quite a good idea of what to expect from them in terms of tactics, individual performances and so on. Essentially, they are a solid team who always attempt to play passing football but lack a striker of genuine class. I also felt they might struggle today when I saw that Peter Kuračka, their captain and playmaker, was missing.

Žilina, meanwhile, made a few changes from Friday night. Martin Krnáč had a rare opportunity in goal in place of Martin Dúbravka, Jozef Piaček replaced Ondřej Šourek in central defence and Arturs Zjuzins was rested in favour of Roman Gergel. Perhaps the most interesting selections, and certainly the ones with most direct relevance to the controversial incidents at the Slovan game, were those of Ernest Mabouka at right-back and Momodou Ceesay in attack. Mabouka was in because Stanislav Angelovič had rightly been given a ban by the SFZ disciplinary commission for his manhandling of assistant referee Roman Slyško as the officials left the field on Friday. Ceesay, by contrast, had had his second yellow card, awarded for diving in the Slovan penalty area, rescinded and was thus eligible to play.

It was perhaps inevitable that Ceesay, who had looked both angry and distraught when he was sent-off on Friday, would as good as secure his side’s cup-final place and achieve personal vindication in the process. His first goal, after 30 minutes, was a sharp, athletic finish after Ivan Lietava had flicked on a long free-kick. His second, five minutes into the second-half, was a towering header from a corner. It was only a foul by Martin Babic, for which he was shown a second yellow card, that prevented Ceesay from registering a hat-trick. As it was, Tomáš Majtán’s confident penalty rounded off a 3-0 win and a highly satisfactory afternoon for Žilina.

Friday night and its aftermath did, as we know (having already discussed the various issues at quite some length) showcase much that is wrong with Slovak football in general and Žilina in particular. Tuesday’s victory is not going to even start to repair Žilina’s image in the eyes of many but it did at least give me a reminder of some of the things I enjoy about following them.

On the field, it was perhaps their best performance of the spring so far. They played some good football and seemed to be enjoying themselves again. It was especially gratifying to see fine performances from Mabouka, who’s sprung from the obscurity of the B-team and now looks a very accomplished full-back, Gergel, who probably shouldn’t have been left out on Friday, and, of course, Ceesay.

A game played in front of 1,673 people shouldn’t be more enjoyable than one played in the same ground in front of 6,500. But this one was far better than Friday’s, partly for the obvious reason that there was no hint of trouble, partly because of the team’s display and also because of the sense of togetherness among the crowd, and between fans and players, that, paradoxically, you get more with a small attendance than with a big one. Add the fact that Žilina are already as good as in the Slovak Cup Final and you could almost forget the likely (and well-deserved) punishment that surely awaits when the ULK and the SFZ disciplinary committee meet on Thursday.

James Baxter

Slovan Bratislava v Spartak Trnava

I was aware that the cup doesn’t attract so much interest in Slovakia.  Let’s be honest, even the league doesn’t attract that much interest; six thousand at Zilina v Slovan last week being an eye-catchingly high attendance in these parts.  However, Slovan v Spartak is THE derby in Slovak football, as big as things get and whatever the occasion, I was excited about my first taste of it.

People can talk about the kick-off time, but in the days that Digisport  TV is able to manipulate matches to start at 17:30, as was the case when Slovan played away in the league in Trnava a few weeks ago , or even 16:30 for today’s other semi-final, I don’t consider 19:00 to be all that bad.  To the contrary, in fact, I actually consider 19:00 to be a fairly civilised kick-off time, all things considered.

Anyway, what am I building up to here?  I’ll get to the match shortly, but I make no secret of the fact that it is the off-the field proceedings which contribute largely to my idea of an entertaining evening. Also, as regular readers will be aware, I have recently moved to Bratislava and am now finally able to get to the matches I have previously been observing from a distance.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say I meet resistance, but I certainly get a fair amount of non-comprehending remarks when I say that I follow Slovak football, in particular Slovan Bratislava.  Much has been written and debated on this blog about the reputation of Slovan and in particular their supporters, and I have already heard plenty of horror stories from the past, however I am taking everything on face-value and so far, the more I see of Slovan, the more I like Slovan.

I genuinely believe that Slovan are moving in the right direction, both on and off the field and I’m trying to document evidence of that.  Granted, it is easy to write positively about a 4-0 victory in the early Spring sunshine over distant Tatran Presov.  The sceptical view will, quite rightly, remain that it is this type of match, the Slovan-Spartak derby clashes which will show the reality of the current situation.  As a caveat to that, Slovan v Dunajska Streda went off without incident a few weeks ago and 500+ Slovan fans made the trip to Zilina last Friday and have been commended by the club and the media for their good behaviour.

As usual, all the warnings were out – in the media, on the club website etc.  The tightest level of security would be in place for this match, expect traffic delays around the ground, double security checks on the way in and no alcohol being served inside.  So I bought my tickets in advance and for once, turned up a good half an hour before kick off.

The scene insde?  Tranquility! the sun was setting peacefully behind the classic Pasienky scoreboard, Slovan fans were draping their vast collection of flags over the fences and, in the home end at least, numbers were starting to build.  Up at the other end?  Well, two men and a dog would be an exaggeration, but just where were those travelling masses from Trnava?  Where were the much-feared hooligans, the bane of provincial towns across the country?  Fan club Spartak Trnava was certainly nowhere to be seen as kick-off approached.

Slovan put out what I would call their strongest team at the moment.  On occasions I have seen quality from Karim Guede, Igor Zofcak, Marko Milinkovic and Filip Sebo which would be fitting for the top leagues of Europe and when they’re all on the same field I can’t help but feel excited about Slovan’s prospects.  Given the imbalance in the stands, surely Slovan would handle this match.

The match got underway amid a decent [by Pasienky standards] atmosphere, the home club certainly can’t ask for more from their supporters, especially given the recent history, stadium disharmony etc.  In fact, when Kore Kone put Trnava 1-0 up with their first chance of the match on 29 minutes, the songs just got louder.  Trnava doubled their lead a few minutes later and I wouldn’t say the Slovan fans didn’t care, but they just continued and strengthened their support.  The reward came 3 minutes later when Kone put the ball in his own net to bring Slovan back to 1-2 at half time.

Now, I will have to browse the various websites to try and get to the bottom of what happened at half time, but first of all, the fifty or so Trnava fans who were there left.  Not just  for half-time refreshment, no they actually left the ground.  Ten minutes into the second half there were more stewards than fans in the away end.  Then suddenly, from over the steps behind the away end a marching mob of Trnava fans entered the arena.  Two or three hundred at least, chanting loudly, finally the fan club had arrived, ten minutes into the 2nd half!  I will investigate further, maybe they were held up by the police, maybe this was some kind of planned boycott of the first half, maybe they were just delayed, but this was the first time I experienced something like this!

Anyway, that led to an improvement of the atmosphere, and the remainder of the match turned out to be a highly entertaining spectacle for the reported crowd of 5,000 [I’ve got my doubts about that].  Guede’s influence was, once again, impressive to such an extent that he clearly stands out as one of the best players in this country at the moment.  Milinkovic showed more moments of class, which, after several wayward attempts, culminated in Slovan’s equaliser with an excellent shot from the edge of the box.

Slovan still have a problem to solve with their 2nd striker.  Sebo needs a physical partner who will provide the flick-ons and short balls he can exploit with his searing pace.  All the creativity in midfield needs to be better converted into goals, as was demonstrated against Zilina on Friday night.   I hold serious reservations about Kresimir Kordic being that strike-partner for Sebo, and he was replaced twenty minutes from time by Akos Szarka.  Possibly Szarka is a better option, I need to see more of him, but with Halenar and Ivana there are plenty of options for coach Jarolim to investigate.

2-2 was probably a fair result, Trnava remained threatening on the break and Slovan had numerous chances they should really have converted.  This result means Slovan need to win the away leg to reach the final, and that will be no easy task.  Unfortunately I won’t be able to make it, but I would imagine that Belasa Slachta will make a point of turning up in full force to highlight the poor turn-out from Trnava on this occasion.

An already satisfying evening ended with a dramatic show of flares and fireworks from the Slovan fans.  Again, I think they were making a point here, all the security checks and rules will never stop the fans bringing these items into the ground but they saved them all for after the final whistle.  Perhaps this was planned so as to not to give the referee an excuse to end the match early, but the bond was strengthened further with the players, once again fans and players together singing the famous

“vstante kde’ ste belasi”

and not a sniff of trouble all night.  Long may this continue.

 

6 responses so far

Apr 04 2011

Zilina v Slovan ‘ends’ in controversy

Published by under Domestic

A busy first weekend back in Bratislava for me started on Friday evening in the All Star Sports Cafe, Bratislava for arguably the biggest match of the season so far, Champions MSK Zilina at home to a resurgent Slovan team desperate for 3 points to close the gap at the top of the table.

I had planned to travel to the match, and for the weeks leading up to it had been constantly in two minds over whether to join fellow writer & Slovak football enthusiast James Baxter in the ‘neutral’ stand, or join the 500-strong travelling contingent behind the goal.  In the end, weather-related delays to my travel plans meant I had to settle for All Star Sports, a perfectly pleasant place to watch football, although at €2.10 a pint of Zlaty Bazant, prices in Old Town Bratislava are definitely on the up!

So, the scene was set, 6,500 fans were in a sun-drenched Pod Dubnom, one of the biggest domestic crowds of the season despite TV coverage fixing the kick-off time at an inconvenient 17:30.  Slovan came out strongly and for the first 30 minutes or so totally dominated possession and territory.  Unfortunately Zilina’s defence remained steadfast and Slovan just couldn’t find the cutting edge during that dominant spell.  Towards the end of the first half and throughout the second half, the match started meandering into a very dull affair, which [in my opinion] was probably a result of Slovan’s dominance but Zilina having a very strong and well organised defence.

The week after several domestic-based players made their debuts for the National Team, this was a poor advert for the Corgon Liga.  Sebo huffed and puffed up front for Slovan, Guede was influential as ever, but the usually creative pairing of Milinkovic and Zofcak just couldn’t conjure up a clear-cut chance for the visitors.

After 70 minutes, Zilina striker Momodou Ceesay was shown a 2nd yellow for diving and had to no choice but to leave the field amid increasing tension and aggression on and off the field.  In scenes James will most likely be better able to describe, all kinds of accusations were flying around the VIP zone between dignatories of both clubs, mainly over the choice of referee for this match and ongoing relationships between the clubs, the SFZ and the ULK [Union of League Clubs].

The Ceesay sending off was certainly harsh, I would even go as far as to say Zilina had a reasonable case for a penalty there.  However Slovan certainly didn’t deserve to go behind at that stage.  The sending off just served to lessen the spectacle even further and the match looked increasingly like ending in an unsatisfactory [for Slovan] 0-0 draw.  What didn’t really come across on the TV was how the tension was continuing to build in the stands and nobody expected what was about to unfold in 90th minute of proceedings.

What happened at the end has turned into a massive scandal dominating the newspapers this weekend.  A Zilina fan jumped onto the pitch from the stands and pushed the linesman with such force he went flying about 2 metres along the touchline.  The referee then took his colleagues into the changing rooms and despite the best attempts of the players, refused to come back out and play the remaining seconds of the match plus injury time.  The match was over, 0-0 on the scoreboard, but only 89 minutes played.  Nobody knows the outcome.  The official league tables have considered the result void and it’s anybody’s guess at the moment how this will end up.  There are suggestions of Slovan being awarded the match, or a replay.  We await the official decision with interest this week, I hope!

Sport Front Page!

An interview with the experienced Zilina player Zdeno Strba on the TV after the match certainly appeared to contain plenty of juicy quotes however I didn’t realise the extent of what Strba said about the referee until a translation of the article almost made me choke on my breakfast the following morning!   Strba’s words about the competency and sobriety of the referee will no doubt land him in hot water, the officials now threatening legal action over that interview!  It could certainly be argued that considering the amount of fans who had paid good money to attend the match, the referee could have given more thought to concluding the fixture properly.  Especially as it now seems that whatever the outcome it should benefit Slovan more than the 0-0 draw the match was heading for. However Strba certainly exceeded the limits in what a professional football player, one of international experience, no less, should say in that kind of situation.  Unbelievable!

7 responses so far