Apr 06 2011

Slovak Cup Semi-Finals

Published by at 2:12 pm under Pohar and tagged: , , ,

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 Ceesay, by contrast, had had his second yellow card, awarded for diving in the Slovan penalty area, rescinded and was thus eligible to play.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




6 Responses to “Slovak Cup Semi-Finals”

  1.   Brian Owenon 06 Apr 2011 at 4:46 pm

    good work you two! Great to read about both games. Solid at the back, try to play neat football, lacking a striker? James has just described about ninety per cent of Slovak teams I’ve seen in my admittedly occasional visits to Ruza, Zilina and Bystrica over the last 14 years! Looking forward to more reports as the season reaches its finale (how on earth are Senica still up there?)

  2.   Stary Jazvecon 06 Apr 2011 at 4:47 pm

    A stoical relationship w/ Zlaté Moravce, nice, I like it.

    Had the pleasure of meeting half of the indefatigable BB duo last night. Happy birthday squire. I am hearing on the bush telegraph that the BB possee are in the big city Saturday nite, so mebbe see u then.

  3.   James Baxteron 07 Apr 2011 at 12:09 am

    Brian, fair comment. Dan obviously got noise, colour and an exciting game (and reflected it all perfectly) whereas I got Strba passing the ball sideways, the usual die-hards in the crowd and a neat but utterly toothless visiting side. It was tough to make it sound exciting but, as I said, after the idiocy of Friday night, I didn’t want that much excitement. Za did play well, in fairness.

    Stary Jazvec, would be fun. Maybe even that Puchov game if, as you obviously hope, we get our ground closed(?)

  4.   James Baxteron 08 Apr 2011 at 12:45 am

    Any thoughts on the punishment? Conditional two games behind closed doors. Seems fair to me, recognising the seriousness of what went on while considering the precedents. Closed doors with immediate effect, even for one game, would have been harsh considering that’s all DAC got after their game with Slovan a couple of years back (the that fact nobody was killed at that one was simply good fortune) or Kosice when fans went after stewards with flagpoles earlier this season.

    6 game ban for Angelovic is about right, I’d anticipate sth similar for Strba too. Kontumacia for Slovan is right too. But glad we can be there for the Nitra game next w/e.

  5.   britskibelasion 08 Apr 2011 at 1:43 pm

    Hadn’t realised it was conditional, didn’t pick that up properly! Immediate closed doors would indeed have been harsh, especially as it was hardly rioting masses, more people who perhaps care just a little bit too much.

    As you mention, there have been more serious incidents of crowd problems. In this case it seems to more about the politics. Politics which the majority of fans probably couldn’t care less about and just wanted to enjoy a footballing spectacle.

    Won’t complain about Kontumacia either, but guess you will miss Angelovic – he is one of the best players IMO – from the CL days I thought that, and Strba too.

  6.   StaryJazvecon 15 Apr 2011 at 2:18 am

    Trnava related, if you havent heard it yet:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EBBY2f2ccFM

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