Archive for May, 2011

May 31 2011

Slovakia v Andorra Preview

Published by under International

Slovakia take on Andorra on Saturday in a Euro 2012 qualifying fixture as important as it is unattractive. Victory at Pasienky, preferably combined with one or both of Russia or Ireland dropping points, would establish Vladimir Weiss’s team in a strong position ahead of the difficult and decisive games coming up in September and October.

Certain business has had to be cleared out of the way before Weiss himself can turn his thoughts exclusively to Andorra. Over the weekend, he decided to refuse the offer to take over as Legia Warsaw’s head coach. This news came as a surprise since Weiss had made little secret of his wish to take on a role at a club to go alongside his job as coach of Slovakia. He admits to being impressed by the infrastructure and level of ambition at Legia but felt that certain aspects of the contract they were offering him would not have satisfied his current employers, Slovenský futbalový zväz (SFZ), that he would be able to carry out his international duties sufficiently.

With Weiss’s immediate future sorted out, attention can now be focused on the best ways to go about defeating the Andorrans. Two players, Martin Škrtel and Adam Nemec, are out of the squad through injury. The fact that a replacement for the Liverpool defender has not been called up suggests that Weiss is not too worried about the attacking threat likely to be posed by Saturday’s visitors. In fact, it seems quite possible that Miroslav Karhan will play in the back four, given the coach’s view that good passing from deep positions will be important and that Karhan is better at this than any other defender in the squad. Nemec’s place, meanwhile, has been taken by Juraj Piroška, who might consider himself unlucky to have been left out of the initial squad following some good performances for Senica this spring as well as a fine display in his country‘s friendly with Denmark at the end of March.

Unsurprisingly, Weiss insists that Slovakia will play an attacking game on Saturday, saying the actual formation will be less important than the quality of play. Assistant Michal Hipp believes Andorra can be hurt in the wide areas, pointing to the fact that Miroslav Stoch (who  misses out this time) caused them problems in the reverse fixture in March. Good set-pieces might also play an important role in breaking Andorra down, according to Hipp, a view backed up by the fact that Filip Šebo’s winning goal at Andorra La Vella followed an inventive move from a free-kick.

At the risk of being made to look silly (in fact, the unpredictability of Weiss’s selections make this more a guarantee than a risk), I thought I would offer a possible Slovak starting line-up for Saturday’s game, playing a 4-4-2 shape :

Of the two goalkeepers in the squad, Marián Kello looks the more likely starter, especially in view of his excellent performance against Denmark. Erik Čikoš of Wisla Krakow, preferred for this game to Peter Pekarík, will almost certainly play at right-back, a position from which he will be expected to get forward at every opportunity. Assuming for now that Karhan plays in central defence, I would pair him with Kornel Saláta who, despite an unfortunate own-goal against the Danes, is a more reassuring figure than Ján Ďurica. And Marek Čech, another defender with attacking instincts, should play on the left. If Weiss feels that Čech’s lack of recent action with West Bromwich Albion is a problem, Tomáš Hubočan will come into the reckoning.

The Italy-based pair of Marek Hamšík and Juraj Kucka ought to be more than good enough to control the central midfield area between them, while Stanislav Šesták and Erik Jendrišek provide pace and industry down the flanks. If greater trickery is required, Igor Žofčák and Piroška are good alternatives for the wide positions. Up front, well, just for once, Slovakia seem to have a few options. My instinct, sacrilegious as this would have seemed not too long ago, is to leave out Róbert Vittek and pair the two Filips, Hološko and Šebo. Hološko seems to have been playing well in Turkey recently and caused the Danish defence all sorts of problems in his last international outing. As for Šebo, little remains to be said after the spring he’s had. Weiss often says that players in form should be picked and it’s difficult to imagine how a striker could be more in form than the Corgoň Liga’s top goalscorer.

I would have liked to be able to find a place for former Žilina captain Róbert Jež but it’s hard to see him starting the game unless Weiss opts for a 4-3-3 and plays him in the third midfield position, ie behind the front trio. Since neither Hološko nor Šebo seems particularly suited to playing in a wide forward role, one of them would have to miss out to allow for such a formation and that seems difficult to justify at present.

Still, Jež is another player in fine form and he seems to be enjoying life in the Polish league with Górnik Zabrze . He hit two goals against Widzew Łódź at the weekend, taking his tally of spring strikes to five and becoming his side’s second top-scorer for the season in the process. To his own relief, though, he was spared the dubious honour of being named man-of-the-match ; the prize Zabrze give for this is a live cockerel in a cage.

If Jež stays with Górnik, the problem of what to do with a cockerel is one he is going to have to deal with at some point. The questions surrounding Weiss’s future are also likely to return in the fairly near future, since his fine work with Petržalka and achievements with Slovakia mean that he is always going to be in demand. Also, his frustration at not being able to work with players on an everyday basis is becoming more obvious with every interview he gives. For now, though, the coach and his players must be united by the simple aim of collecting, as convincingly as they can, three points on Saturday. Andorra don’t concede embarrassing numbers of goals these days but they are still a very limited side. I venture to predict  a 3-0 home win with Šebo scoring at least one of the goals.

James Baxter

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May 29 2011

SK SFM Senec v 1. FC Petrzalka

Published by under Domestic

I must admit I was exceptionally disappointed to learn that the final day fixtures for the Corgon Liga moved forward from the weekend to the previous Wednesday.  This meant I missed out on an away day to the family’s home town of Dunajska Streda with Slovan and faced the prospect of a football-free weekend.  However a quick scan of the fixtures in the morning papers soon created an opportunity.  Division 2 West had nothing in the vicinity of Bratislava, but there it was;  Division 1 17:00 Senec v Petrzalka, perfect.  A quick sms to Stary Jazvec and we were in business, Senec away here we come.

We took the train from Bratislava at 16:37 and avoided the triathlon participants to scoot around the Senec lake and into the ground having just missed 7 minutes of the ‘action’.  As we were to soon find out, this wasn’t about the football.  A typical end-of-season dead rubber on a blustery, wet day.  347 people turned up.  While circumnavigating the lake however, it was clear that some people in the ground were there to make some noise.  You could even go as far as to call it co-ordinating singing.  We gambled on between 30-50 away fans, because we knew that the noise certainly wasn’t coming from the locals.  We probably weren’t far off the mark with that estimate, although Petrzalka’s support probably totalled nearer 100, all in.

At one point in their turbulent recent past, Petrzalka actually played home-games here in Senec.  Something to do with the degradation of Stary Most and the fact it had no floodlights meant that this was a normal home-trip for the Petrzalka die-hards.  Crowds were probably no better then than today and that was while they were competing at the top of the Corgon Liga.

The Senec complex is actually the SFZ National Football Centre, with facilities of the quality you don’t normally find in football grounds in this country.  €2,50 entrance, €1 a beer, no complaints there and on entry we were amused to find the Petrzalka contingent in the main stand.

This small group of Petrzalka ‘ultras’ seems to be gaining in numbers and strength with their banners hung proudly over the railings they created quite a noise.  Alchol-influenced and slightly un-cordinated, the ring-leader with the wig and the mega-phone was trying his best.  The away fans even managed to create a temporary suspension of on-the-field proceedings when the covered the pitch with till rolls.  A slightly unnecessary action, I must admit, and it wasn’t long before the Senec ‘heavies’ were out to get things under control.  All very amusing!

chaos in the away end

My attention was certainly drawn to the Petrzalka number 16 during this first half, Agustin looks an accomplished footballer and was head-and-shoulders above the rest today.  Another one for Slovan?  Maybe, but it’s a pity that this is the kind of conversation we have when watching Petrzalka these days.

The Senec ground is a lovely place to watch football, but where isn’t on a summer day in Slovakia?!  The main stand is superb, facilities in terms of catering and toilets probably take some beating throughout the whole country and there isn’t a sniff of animosity or trouble here.  I got reprimanded for saying that Senec have no fans, of course there are a few loyal locals, but with around 100 away fans in a crowd of 347, do the maths.

It’s not big, but with a capacity of around 4,000 and stands close to the pitch, this is the kind of ground where we should be watching football, forget athletics tracks and awful facilities.  I’m not saying Slovan should play here in Senec, but the longer their own ground situation is not resolved, the more you can’t help thinking something like this would be much more appropriate.   As with a lot of the grounds here, I would love to come when it was full, maybe for a big cup tie one day.  Credit to the SFZ and Senec, this is a good set-up.  It can be done.

SK SFM Senec. Decent.

During half-time the Petrzalka contingent migrated to the other side of the ground which created a new vantage point for us behind the goal.  There is a fenced-off ‘Sektor Hosti’ in this ground but it wasn’t in use today.  Considering any team bringing a decent contingent of away fans here are going to outnumber the home fans it is reasonable to question the function of this section of the ground.  Spartak Trnava visiting in the cup?  Can’t see that fence helping much.

Sektor hosti? Pointless!

Anyway, the football in the 2nd half was dire, so the conversation turned towards Petrzalka and their identity, once again, as it always seems to do.  The ultras group are all for singing the German name ‘Engerau’, I was especially amused by the ‘Engerau Sampion’ song which is one of the favourites.  But why?  It is hard to fathom why the fans sing the German name of Petrzalka when the origin of the club is very much Hungarian.  13 name changes and counting, the identity of the club and it’s fans will remain a subject for discussion.  The fans are certainly loyal though and banners in tribute to the outgoing coach and thanking the players for an excellent season certainly show that there are no especially hard feelings about the current situation.  I suppose there is a kind of resigned acceptance and contentment that the club still exists and still plays in black & white.  It is hard not to feel a certain affection and sympathy with the team, especially on a day like today.

Loyal Petrzalka

In order to catch the train back we had to leave slightly early, but it was no great surprise to confirm the 0-0 scoreline later that evening.  Petrzalka played some decent football at times, they have plenty of players with a good touch, but once again, as we always seem to end up saying, the lack of a decent striker on show today was blatantly obvious.  So it’s 3rd place for Petrzalka, 21 points behind Champions Trencin and 3 behind surprise 2nd place finishers Rimavska Sobota.  Earlier in the season we were making a case that Petrzalka will probably have to wait a season for their return to the top league due to the strength of Trencin, but based on recent performances, you can’t help feeling it might be slightly more than just a season…

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May 28 2011

Corgon Liga 2010/11 Round-Up

Published by under Domestic

It’s been an eventful spring in the Corgoň Liga with one major winner and two significant losers. Of the other sides, some have seen their positions improve very slightly, while others have taken a backward step or two. The summer break is a short one in Slovakia so we ought to review the accounts from this campaign before pre-season and then 2011-2012 are upon us.

Obviously, Slovan Bratislava, the newly-crowned champions, are the spring’s achievers. In comfortably overturning a 12-point deficit to win the title, they have shown both skill and single-mindedness. The roots of their phenomenal run can be traced back to their winter preparations when coach Karel Jarolím established a relationship with his players and instilled his footballing philosophy in them. The emergence of young centre-back Kristian Kolčák ensured that neither the departed Kornel Saláta nor the initially injured Radek Dosoudil were missed too much. There was creativity in midfield and Filip Šebo provided goals, goals and more goals in attack. Now Slovan will hope to keep their key men ahead of both a title defence and an assault on the Champions League qualifiers.

While Slovan sustained their form over the entire spring, 2011’s first revelation was actually Senica. They added goals to the defensive solidity they had established last autumn and their form in February and March was such that three of their players were selected by Vladimir Weiss for Slovakia’s games against Andorra and Denmark. Dropped points at home to relegation strugglers Dubnica and Košice undermined Senica’s title challenge and defeat by Slovan in early May effectively ended it but they can still be proud of their efforts.

The year’s big losers at the top end of the table have been Žilina, who have spent the spring looking more like a relegation-threatened side than title contenders. In stark contrast to Slovan‘s, their winter preparations, at least when viewed with hindsight, were both triumphalist and chaotic. Key players left and were not adequately replaced, the new signings spending too much time out injured and/or performing inconsistently. Coach Pavel Hapal appears to be keeping his job for now but he will need to change a few things before 2011/2012 gets underway.

Other clubs have had good, bad or indifferent springs but Trnava’s has been perhaps the most bizarre. Their fans started boycotting matches following the sacking of coach Dušan Radolský, meaning that a succession of home wins under Peter Zelenský were achieved in front of crowds of barely 1,000. Away form was always a problem but Zelenský has a right to feel that, considering the hostility aimed at him, he has done a reasonable job in guiding the club to a fourth-placed finish and a European place.

Banská Bystrica will be a little disappointed with themselves, having dropped from fourth at the end of last autumn to a final position of fifth. They play attractive football and appear to have decent foundations at the club but will hope for more consistency come next season. Zlaté Moravce, one place below in sixth, have had a fine campaign for a newly-promoted side, especially considering that they have the smallest squad in the league and that Peter Kuračka and Milan Pavlovič, two of their best players, have spent extended periods on the treatment table.

Ružomberok, largely thanks to the reappointment of Ladislav Jurkemík as coach, went on a run of 17 points from their last ten games to hoist themselves to a safe mid-table position. Nitra too made a coaching change, firing Ivan Vrabec after three heavy defeats at the start of the spring and bringing in Cyril Stachura. As with Ružomberok, more than enough points were gained to ensure that relegation worries were banished well before the season ended.

DAC Dunajská Streda were in alarming free-fall until just a few weeks ago. However, two successive wins, the second in a crucial game at Dubnica, steered them clear of the relegation battle. The question now is whether Roman Pivarník will take over as head coach having initially been brought in to work in tandem with Mikulaš Radványi.

The eastern duo of Prešov and Košice cannot be proud of their campaigns but will be relieved to have survived. It might have suited Košice to play their final match of the season against a spiritless Žilina side. Victory in that game even lifted them above their neighbours who at times, notably when conceding last-minute goals, seemed to want to prolong their own agony. In rounding off their season by sharing six goals with Nitra, Prešov showed both why they struggled in 2010/2011 and why they might just do rather better next time round.

It all means that two wins in their last three games were too little too late to save Dubnica. There will be disappointment at the club that increased investment over the winter and a skillful brand of football on the pitch did not bring more points at an earlier stage. Thoughts should be spared too for Jan Trousil and Tomáš Polách, loan-signings from Brno who saw both the clubs they played for in 2010/2011 suffer relegation. Still, putting things in an appropriate perspective is Dubnica coach Peter Gergely. ‘Relegation isn’t a tragedy,’ said Gergely. ‘I experienced tragedy here in 2004 when our young player Martin Doktor died suddenly.’

To end on a more upbeat note, it appears that I Liga champions AS Trenčín will be allowed to use their home ground next season after all. Their general manager says in an interview in Friday’s Šport that the club now has sufficient funding to install CCTV cameras, upgrade its artificial pitch and make other necessary ground improvements. On the pitch, it’s possible to imagine Trenčín doing as well as Zlaté Moravce have done this season and establishing themselves firmly at the top level. Meanwhile, as a fan, you can do a lot worse than enjoy a football day out in the shadow of Trenčín’s magnificent castle.

James Baxter

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May 25 2011

Britski Belasi End of Season Message

Published by under Uncategorized

Dear Readers,

I think this is possibly the first time in over a decade that I have been more than 4 days without an internet connection, what an experience.   It is a huge coincidence that the days I was stranded in the North Sea without contact to the real world coincided with the weekend Slovan Bratislava won the double.  I don’t yet even know the score in the Dubnica match,  it really can be an amazingly refreshingly experience to genuinely not know what happened and have no way of finding out.

I have not ignored the achievement; in a different situation, I would very much have enjoyed being there to savour it and celebrate with the fans and players of Slovan Bratislava, but the way I live and work, you win some and you lose some.  I have very much enjoyed the matches I have been able to attend this season and I am already looking forward with anticipation to the Champions League qualifiers on 12/13 July where Slovan will embark on their quest to match Zilina’s amazing achievement of group stage qualification last season.  That would be remarkable, but if Slovan are seriously looking to build for their own future and the future of Slovak football, this is really the minimum expectation for a realistic case to be made of progression from last season.   I would put forward a tentative argument that if Slovan are ever going to achieve this holy grail, next season is as good a chance as they are going to get…

Thanks so much to everyone who has followed the blog throughout the season, of course I have to express my massive appreciation to James Baxter for his articles and his incomparable insight.  I would like to express my gratitude to everybody who contributes through articles, comments or purely by reading Britski Belasi.  There is no close season in our part of the world, and we will be back, bigger and stronger than ever for 2011/12, crunch time for Euro 2012 qualification.

Slovensko do toho!

BB

 

For those interested, here is a list of possible CL 2nd round opponents for Slovan Bratislava:

Možní súpery Slovan Bratislava : Dacia Kišiňov (Mold.), FC Pjunik Jerevan (Arm.), Borac Banja Luka (Bosna a Herceg.), Skonto Riga (Lot.), FC Videoton (Maď., Tomáš Tujvel), Bangor City (Wales), HB Tórshavn (Faer. ostr.), majster Čiernej Hory, FC Linfield (Sev. Ír.), FC Tobol Kostanaj (Kaz.), Flora Tallinn (Est.), UBK Breidablik (Isl.), Neftči Baku (Azerb.), FK Škendija (Mac.), FK Skanderbeg Korcë (Alb.)

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May 19 2011

Slovakia squad for Andorra

Published by under International

Slovakia coach Vladimir Weiss has announced the following selection for the upcoming Euro 2012 Group B qualifying match against Andorra on 4th June:

GOALKEEPERS: Marián Kello (Heart Of Midlothian), Dušan Perniš (Dundee United)

DEFENDERS: Erik Čikoš (Wisla Krakov), Martin Škrtel (FC Liverpool), Ján Ďurica(Lokomotiv Moskva), Tomáš Hubočan (Zenit St Petersburg), Kornel Saláta (FK Rostov),Marek Čech (West Bromwich Albion)

MIDFIELDERS: Juraj Kucka (Genoa), Róbert Jež (Górnik Zabrze), Miroslav Karhan(1. FSV Mainz), Kamil Kopúnek (AS Bari), Marek Hamšík (Napoli), Igor Žofčák (Slovan Bratislava)

STRIKERS: Stanislav Šesták (MKE Ankaragücü), Róbert Vittek (MKE Ankaragücü), Filip Šebo (Slovan Bratislava), Adam Nemec (1. FC Kaiserslautern), Filip Hološko (Büyüksehirspor), Erik Jendrišek (SC Freiburg)

As is becoming quite normal these days, there are a couple of new additions to the latest squad, firstly Erik Čikoš from newly crowned Polish Champions Wisla Krakov, a player who started out at Inter Bratislava followed by a short spell at MFK Petrzalka and then a move to Poland.  It’s also good to see Slovan Bratislava captain Igor Žofčák back in contention after a superb spring season leading Slovan to the brink of the title.

Weiss continues to experiment with the squad, previously well established defenders Radoslav Zabavník (1. FSV Mainz) and Peter Pekarík (VfL Wolfsburg) having been relegated to the reserves list this time around.

It is interesting to see the veteran Miroslav Karhan back and notable absentees include the coach’s son Vladimir Weiss Jr and Miroslav Stoch although I’m not fully aware of their current fitness status. It is also good to see Róbert Jež there, a player who has only made 4 appearances for the National Team in 4 years despite being one of the most consistent domestic performers over that time period.  It would be interesting to hear from a Polish-insider exactly how impressive Jež and Čikoš have been this Spring, but it does seem as though Weiss listens closely to the SFZ scout over the border.

While an international re-call does a lot to vindicate Jež’s move to Poland, it seems as though a season warming the Everton bench has done first choice World Cup goalkeeper Jan Mucha no favours at all; he does not even feature on the reserves list as Weiss has gone local naming Matúš Putnocký as the goalkeeping reserve.  Personally I’m not so sure Putnocký is international class yet, but let’s not get too excited, it is only the reserve list after all.

The three FK Senica players (Lukšík, Kóňa and Piroska) who were selected in the last squad, and by all accounts performed quite respectably, also find themselves back on the reserves list in a slightly strange move by the coach.

I’m noticing that throughout this qualifying campaign, Weiss continues to keep the opponents, the players and the fans guessing as to the exact squad and playing style.  Each selection has produced a few surprises and I can see how that helps the motivation amongst Slovak footballers, whether they be based at home or abroad.  It is slightly bizarre though that he introduces new players to the scene only to drop them again, seemingly regardless of how they perform.

Ticket prices for this match have also been announced this week; €25 / €15 / €7 are the three price categories, and I must admit I find these prices quite high for a match against largely unknown opponents.  The real fans amongst us fully appreciate the importance of this match, but prices like that are not likely to sway hesitant locals to attend. I fear a dismal attendance, but let’s hope the players concentrate on the task at hand which is maintaining top place in the group with 3 points and preferably a few goals too.

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May 16 2011

Dubnica 1-0 Žilina

Published by under Domestic

The prospect of a trip to Dubnica is not exciting exactly but it’s certainly agreeable. The journey is easy, there are a couple of decent pubs, including one right next to the ground, tickets are cheap and entitle you to sit wherever you want, the stewards and staff are amiable, the home fans are happy to chat and, since the club emphasises the development of its own young talent, the football is usually watchable.

The problem was that I had something of a mental conflict going into Žilina’s game there on Saturday. Who did I want to win? I support Žilina and their last-gasp winner at home to Prešov in midweek had maintained hopes that a second-placed finish to the season might not be beyond them. Three more points would have sustained the challenge to Senica. But I also like Dubnica and an away win would have all but ended the home side’s prospects of playing Corgoň Liga football next season. Four points adrift of safety and facing a visit to champions-elect Slovan Bratislava in their next (last but one) fixture, Dubnica desperately needed a victory from this one. I did know that, since a draw would be no use to either side, I wanted one of them to claim the three points.

Both Dubnica and Žilina have had disappointing springs. Of all the Corgoň Liga clubs, Dubnica made some of the most interesting signings of the winter, bringing in three vastly experienced players (Pavol Kováč, Jan Trousil and Tomáš Polách) as well as one of Slovakia’s most promising talents (Marek Kuzma). One effect has been to ensure that the team is always competitive. With goalkeeper Kováč and central-defender Trousil organising things at the back, five clean sheets were kept in the first eight games following the break and the side’s tendency to subside when things go against them has been eradicated. Polách, full of energy, purpose and neat passing is as good an example as I’ve seen for a while of the kind of short, bald midfield general that used to be all the rage, while Kuzma has brought touch and technique to the forward line. The problem is that there is still nobody to score goals on a consistent basis. Six strikes in twelve games, just one of which was won (1-0, of course), going into the Žilina fixture tells you why Dubnica have continued to occupy bottom place since the season resumed in late February.

Žilina, meanwhile, have seen a six-point lead at the top of the table transformed into a six-point deficit. There are numerous reasons for this but, for now at least, I wouldn’t look far beyond the lack of goals ; incredibly, they’ve failed to trouble the scorers on more occasions than Dubnica. And, while Dubnica seem to keep missing chances, Žilina have struggled painfully to create them in the first place. So, as with so many of the matches I’ve attended recently, I wasn’t anticipating a high-scoring thriller.

The train journey promised to be interesting, however. Due to reduced interest, the Žilina fan-club has stopped organising coach travel to away games but a hard core of followers will usually make their own way to places like Dubnica. Some go by car but those who like to have a few drinks and generally make a day out of it go by train. We were joined in our carriage by a group of 15 or so, armed with a bottle of Johnny Walker Red Label and a linesman’s flag. The whisky, predictably, had been consumed by the time we got to Dubnica, the flag was presumably intended to symbolise the perceived injustices Žilina have been victims of this spring at the hands of officials such as Roman Slyško. There were also three middle-aged women, one of them sporting a Róbert Jež scarf. Žilina seem to have a relatively large female following and these three, clearly hardy travellers, were a veritable fount of knowledge and gossip regarding the state of the club.

Dubnica, of course, was as laid-back as ever. There were a few policemen waiting to greet us at the railway station but the group with the flag, while a bit drunk and loud, clearly needed little more than the odd friendly reminder to keep them in line. Inside the ground, the unexpected appearance of Jež on the touchline – he was giving an interview to Digi Sport – was as exciting as it got for the away following. Dubnica took the lead after four minutes when a neat exchange between Kuzma and Peter Šulek ended with the latter smashing the ball past Martin Dúbravka from an acute angle. They should have gone 2-0 up just before half-time when Ľubomir Guldan was adjudged to have pushed Kuzma over in the box but, as Guldan made his way to the dressing-room, having been shown the red card, Matej Ižvolt saw his penalty saved by Dúbravka.

The second-half was a perfect illustration of the shortcomings of both teams. Žilina passed the ball attractively and, despite being a man short, were on top of Dubnica for long spells. But the only time they really looked like scoring was when Ivan Lietava rattled the bar with a powerful 30-yard shot. The home side, seemingly unsure of how to deal with being a goal and a player to the good, were largely passive but two counter-attacks brought clear chances to wrap the game up. Juraj Vavrík, to the obvious frustration of the home fans around us, missed both of them in fairly pitiful fashion.

Fortunately for Vavrík, the main object of the Dubnica supporters’ anger was referee Michal Smolák. It was hard to see why since he didn’t appear to do an awful lot wrong but, in common (I’m beginning to think) with the fans of pretty much every Corgoň Liga club, the Dubnica regulars feel there’s a conspiracy against their side.They told us that the authorities are determined to see them relegated because promoted Trenčín will not get a licence for their ground next season and will be forced to play home matches at Dubnica. It’s a difficult story to credit for several reasons (for one thing, what’s the problem with two top-flight clubs sharing a ground?) but, sceptical as I most certainly am about many of these conspiracy theories, I do think they partly explain why Corgoň Liga crowds are as low as they are. There were only 985 at Saturday’s game ; when you consider that the weather was nice, tickets cost just 3 Euros, the home team still had a fighting chance of staying up and were facing local rivals, that’s a very poor attendance. But then, if people genuinely believe the title and relegation issues are decided in advance, rather than on the field, there’s no real need for them to go along and watch the games.

There was similar gossip on the train home. Slovan’s first goal at Prešov was a penalty, the woman in the Jež scarf told us. There was speculation about whether it had been dubiously awarded and whether Slovan would have won without it. I was glad to find, on switching on TA3’s evening sports programe, that a more obvious penalty would be difficult to imagine.

Oddly enough, the only team to take a point from Slovan this spring is Dubnica. It’s difficult to imagine them repeating the feat at Pasienky next week, which means they need Košice to lose at Zlaté Moravce to retain a hope of staying up. Always assuming, of course, that the fans have got it wrong and what happens on the pitch will be decisive, as opposed to what goes on in committee rooms, luxury villas, seedy bars or wherever else conspiracies are supposedly hatched.

James Baxter

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May 14 2011

Slovan a step closer: Matchday 31

Published by under Domestic

Ahead of this match away in the East of Slovakia, Slovan’s players offered a gesture of thanks to the fans for their support over recent weeks by paying for their coach travel to the match.  I’m not sure how many made the trip, but those who did will be surely enjoying the long journey home.   Slovan struggled for an hour, but a red card penalty incident, which I haven’t yet seen, ultimately broke Presov, Igor Zofcak converting from the spot.  Shortly after, Bozic scored the cup winners’ second goal and Slovan eased home as Presov had another man sent off.

James Baxter will no doubt have plenty [or perhaps not much] to say about Dubnica 1-0 Zilina played out in front of just 985 fans.  Dubnica really needed a favour from DAC at home to Kosice although with an inferior goal difference, their chances of survival are not really affected by whether the current gap is 1 or, the actual 2 points.  Regardless of other results, this was a big win for Dubnica, but with Slovan potentially in a position to win the title when Dubnica travel to the capital next week, they will be very lucky if they’re still in with a shout of survival on the final day at home gainst Dukla.

A point against Kosice was actually enough for DAC who have confirmed Corgon Liga status for next season, a big relief for the well supported club given their atrocious spring-season form.  With 4 consecutive defeats, Presov are still not safe, but as mentioned, with Dubnica travelling to Slovan, you feel they are the definite favourites for the drop with Kosice nervously looking over their shoulder.  Maybe James will predict a Dubnica upset at Slovan next week, but somehow I can’t see it happening.

Senica kept their title hopes alive with a 3-2 home win against Nitra, but unfortunately for them it does seem as though the home match against Slovan was the decider in this season’s title race.  If Slovan win their game in hand on Tuesday against a Trnava side who’s fans are currently boycotting all fixtures, they will move 4 points clear of Senica, which does indeed mean that the title could be secured a game early at home against Dubnica.  In another gesture of renewed solidarity between Slovan Bratislava the club and it’s fans, it has been agreed that all ticket revenue from sales to the ultras section for the match against Trnava will be put towards the purchase of new flags and banners ahead of next season’s European [one hopes] campaign.

A week after winning the Cup in a dramatic final against Zilina, culminating in a penalty shoot-out, the good times do seem to be slowly coming back at Slovan, even if the club must soldier on playing home games at Pasienky.

With all due respect to the 1,195 spectators and the players and officials from MFK Ruzomberok and Vion Zlate Moravce,  it seems hardly worth mentioning their 0-0 draw this afternoon.  In front of what must have been their lowest crowd for years [982] Trnava succumbed to a 0-2 home defeat to a Dukla Banska Bystrica side whose inconsistency may ultimately cost them the European place they achieved last season.  I also can’t understand the timing of the Trnava fans’ boycott.  Given Zilina’s awful run of form, it would have been more than feasible for Trnava to capitalise and sneak into 3rd place and a guaranteed European place.

Perhaps someone can clarify the rules here, but with Slovakia having 1 CL qualifying place and 3 EL qualifying places, it seems as though 4th place will secure a European place as the cup final featured Zilina & Slovan.  So the race is still on, with just 3 points between Trnava and Dukla, one of these teams will presumably sneak through the back-door into the early rounds of the Europa League, already just a few weeks away!  Given Dukla’s dismal performance against Georgian opposition last season, part of me does hope it is Trnava although this is a story for another day ..

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May 10 2011

A Tribute to Marek Mintál

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I hope I’m not going to develop the habit of citing When Saturday Comes articles every time I write one of my own but there was a piece on www.wsc.co.uk recently which is relevant to the theme I want to cover here. In contrast to 25-30 ago, it said, there are almost no players today who look likely to become two-club legends. The likes of Chris Smalling (Fulham to Manchester United) and Daniel Sturridge (Manchester City to Chelsea) were given little chance to establish themselves at first-team level before being snapped up by ‘bigger’ clubs, whereas in the more innocent 1980s, the likes of Bryan Robson, Steve Bruce and John Barnes were heroes at West Bromwich Albion, Norwich City and Watford respectively before being sold and going on to become legends at Old Trafford and Anfield.

The argument is an excellent one but a look at the Bundesliga would have uncovered a player who decidedly does deserve to be called a two-club legend. His name is Marek Mintál and, after eight years of distinguished service (141 games, 65 goals), he made a last, emotional appearance in front of the home crowd at FC Nuremberg’s Frankenstadion last Saturday. The Nuremberg years followed six success-filled ones with MŠK Žilina, where Mintál won two Slovak league championship medals and scored 77 goals in 188 games.

Slovak Sports paper Dennik Sport promotes the Nuremburg love for Mintal

Let’s take the Žilina era first. Mintál joined the club from Nové Mesto nad Váhom in 1997, aged just 19. In his first season, he was the Slovak league’s seventh top goalscorer and helped his club to a fourth-placed finish. But his hero status can be attributed mainly to his performances in 2001-2002 and 2002-2003, when, with 21 and 20 goals respectively, he helped fire the club to the first two of three consecutive domestic titles.

I have to be honest here; I’m attempting to do justice to a player I’ve only seen play once in the flesh (we’ll come to that later). Mintál’s departure for Nuremberg co’incided with my arrival in Žilina – no jokes, please, that he must have known something. All I can say is that, in my own time here, I’ve been privileged to see some of the best of the current generation of Slovak footballers in action on a regular basis. They include, in no particular order, Zdeno Štrba, Stanislav Šesták, Peter Pekarík and Róbert Jež. But, while these players do occupy places in the affections of most Žilina fans, their popularity doesn’t match Mintál’s. Mintál is a local boy ; he was born in Žilina. He performed tremendous feats in his club’s first title successes of modern times. He was a fantastic player to watch. He retains close connections with the club and gives his name to an Under 17s tournament it hosts every year. No’one says a bad word about him. His place in the local hall of fame is forever secure.

In the summer of 2003, Mintál moved to Nuremberg, then in the Bundesliga’s second tier, for 100,000 Euros. He was the club’s top scorer as they gained  promotion at the end of his first season and was then top scorer in the whole Bundesliga the following campaign. If he needed to do anything to ensure everlasting popularity among the Frankenstadion regulars, it was to stay with the club and perform well following relegation in 2007-2008. No problem. Mintál remained loyal and top scored yet again as Nuremberg bounced straight back to the top flight.

More recently, Mintál has become a fringe player at Nuremberg to the point where this season he has seen just 125 minutes of first-team action in 15 substitute appearances. That doesn’t diminish his status among the fans, however. He was recently voted into a ‘legends XI’, a team made up of Nuremberg’s greatest ever players. Also, I can personally testify from my own recent visit to the Frankenstadion that his name appears on the back of more replica shirts than that of anyone else in the current squad. But his recent lack of action has frustrated him. He wants to play regular first-team football and realises that Nuremberg, looking to move forward with a young squad, are unable to offer him this. His contract comes to an end this summer and he believes it is time to leave.

So it was all set for a day of tears and farewells on Saturday when Nuremberg met Hoffenheim. Captain Andreas Wolf said ahead of the match that the day would be ‘all about Marek Mintál’, the club programme devoted 10 pages to celebrating his career and the fans, in one of the most wonderful touches imaginable, had prepared a huge banner saying, in Slovak, ‘ďakujeme ti za všetko’ (‘thank you for everything’). Mintál didn’t start the game but came on at an earlier stage than he’s been used to recently, after 65 minutes. Sadly, he couldn’t prevent the 2-1 defeat which, even without Mainz’s win away to Schalke, would have put an end to Nuremberg’s slim hopes of qualifying for next season’s Europa League. Never mind. After the final whistle, there were speeches and a lap of honour. The mutual expressions of affection were such that Mintál was unable to drag himself off the pitch and the fans wouldn’t leave their places until 30 minutes after the game had ended.

“]”]We’d better not run the risk of getting emotional, so what is Mintál like as a player? He is often known as Phantom, a nickname he took with him from Žilina to Nuremberg. On the one occasion I saw him play, a Euro 2008 qualifier in Bratislava between Slovakia and Cyprus, won 6-1 by the home side, I was able to see why. He played in his usual attacking midfield role and kept making runs from deep positions that the Cyprus defence simply couldn’t track. His running style looked effortless – I was almost reminded of the great West Indian fast-bowler Michael Holding – and he seemed to time his arrivals on the edge of the opposition penalty area to perfection. Those qualities, together with a powerful shot, go some way towards explaining why, besides his club records, he scored 14 goals in 45 appearances for Slovakia between 1998 and his international retirement in 2009.

The only thing that remains, then, is the future. Naturally, Mintál is already surrounded by plenty of speculation. He is certain that he wants to continue as a player for at least another two years; no doubt, given the two promotions he’s inspired Nuremberg to, there’ll be plenty of second tier German clubs interested. Another rumour is that he might be persuaded to return to Žilina. As a believer that one should ‚never go back‘, I’m not sure that’s such a good idea. But it has its appeal. Mintál would still be capable of causing Corgoň Liga teams problems and, almost uniquely among Slovak footballers, his signing could be expected to single-handedly lead to an increased demand for season-tickets.

Whatever happens, Marek Mintál has given Žilina and Nuremberg fans a lot to enjoy over the last 14 years. A two-club legend indeed.

James Baxter

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May 05 2011

FK Senica v SK Slovan

Published by under Domestic,Guest

First v Second, village minnows vs capital city giants.  About as poetic as Slovak football gets and we’d been looking forward to this for a long time.  Ralph Davies talks us through a different kind of away trip:

Welcome to the village at the top of Slovak football.

 

 

Most of the people on the train travelling down to Slovakia were hockey fans. I don’t need to tell you how huge the sport is in both the Czech and Slovak Republics, so it shouldn’t have surprised me when the train was full of supporters heading to Bratislava for the clash between Czech Republic and Finland later that day. All of them in colours and all of them sharing bottles of slivovice with fellow passengers [you hid that well Ralph  - Ed].

I was the only football fan in my carriage (unless the old lady opposite me was hiding a Spartak Trnava top under her jumper), probably the only one going from Brno to Senica to see the top of  the Corgan Liga clash between 1st placed Senica and 2nd placed Slovan Bratislava. Just to give some background to FK Senica, in 2008/9 season they were playing 4th tier football in Slovakia. The following season they ‚merged‘ with top flight Inter Bratislava and were allowed to take their place in the Corgon Liga. To me, that sounds exactly like Franchise FC and it’s such a shame that Slovak football lost a club like Inter, I am not even sure if the club exists anymore [they have started out again in the 5th tier, Bratislava league-Ed].  Going into today’s match, Senica were sitting ‚proudly‘  at the top of the league and looking at hosting European football next season.

Europe here we come, FK Senica go 1 up.

I digress, My first port of call was Kuty, a train station on the border, to meet Britski Belasi who was joining me for the trip.  After a quick pivo at the pub at Kuty train station (70cents for a large Corgon) we were on the train to Senica.  The town itself has a population of of just over 20,000 and has no mention in any guidebook. When I told friends I was going there, they couldn’t believe that I was staying the night. The general view „ Why? There is nothing to do there.“  My research had told me that there 48 pubs in the town. Of course we would find something to do.

Reasonably priced beer, check. Over-priced away end tickets, check.

After a short bus journey from the out of town train station to the centre of the town, we found  the first pub. It was a rough looking establishment with a slighly rougher clientele.  Almost upon entrance, we were told that  wearing Slovan colours was showing disrespect to people of Senica – not the best of starts. However,we were allowed to  finish our beers  but, not before being told by one of them  that Senica weren’t „allowed“ to win the title and that he was sure that the championship was heading to Slovan. The first pub, the first beer and the first mention of corruption. Welcome to Senica.

Pub number 2 was the hotel bar. We’d obviously chosen well as the Slovan squad were using it as a place to rest  before leaving for stadium.  As the players came into the bar for the final team meeting we thought abut asking them for a lift to the ground. Well, we were all going that way.  Instead we had enjoyably open chats with Karim Guede, Mamadou Bagayoko and top scorer, Filip Sebo aka Sebo Goal. Filip ( first name terms, see) in particular was friendly, spoke excellent English and told us things that can’t be published here, but will definitely be recounted should you wish to join us on future trips!  10 minutes later and with a wave goodbye we left them for Karel, a taxi driver with no interest in the local football team, to take us to the ground.

Karim & Mamadou .. Top Lads

Pub number 3 was a restaurant next to the ground. Unknown to this Britski Belasi tour there was an alcohol ban in all pubs around the ground.  However, we did charm the waitress into pouring us 2 large Bernards to wash down the chicken steaks we had also ordered. As we sat at the bar, we got chatting to the barmaid, who told us in no uncertain terms that if we wanted a good night out after the match, we should go to either Skalice or Trnava. Perhaps the stories of Senica were true.

As we walked towards the away end, it was obvious that security was tight. Slovan Bratislava have a reputation and it’s not a particularly good one. I had heard horror stories of Slovan hooligans smashing towns up all over Slovakia and as fans they are not  well liked. (As the photos that accompany this article will show, the away end was a lot of fun with no trouble whatsoever). Around 500 fans had made the journey up from the capital for the game and it wasn’t long before they started to fill up the away end.

The police hang around.

Open, curved terraces with fence at the front your thing? Slovakia's the place.

The game itself was really a game of 2 halves. Senica had the better of  first half and deservedly went ahead when Czech striker, Jaroslav Divis acrobatically scissor kicked the ball home to make it 1-0 Senica . Slovan were struggling to get into the game and at half-time they must have received a real rollocking from their coach Karel Jarolim as the 2nd half was a completely different story. In 69th minute,  Bosnian midfielder Mario Bozic lashed home  from  just outside the area and  ran to join the party in the away end. The celebrations were not to end there as after what seemed like a 20 minute onslaught on the Senica goal,  Guede was played in by the captain Zofcak, he calmly played the ball across the penalty area for the oncoming Sebo to fire home from just inside the 6-yard box.  Cue, wild celebrations behind the goal…

Sneaked past security & saved for 88 minutes. Ultra culture.

And that is how it ended, the 2-1 victory took Slovan to top of the league, one point ahead of Senica with 4 games left. With Zilina falling away  and possibly even relinquishing 3rd place, it’s Slovan’s title to lose.

Back to the away end the players and fans celebrated together for a good 20 minutes after the final whistle and  as a long suffering Zbrojovka Brno fan, it was great to see the joy on the faces of the Belasi behind the goal.  You get the feeling that Slovan were moving onto better things both on and off the pitch. Lets hope so.

SK Slovan, Vstante ked ste Belasi

We headed back across town, dodged a few stray fireworks, flares and smoke-bombs in the street, as the Slovan procession of cars set off for the 90km drive back to the capital horns tooting, flags aloft.  We were sure that there would find a couple of decent bars on the way home, but were truly disappointed and ended up hatching our own plan to open a sports bar for when European football hits the village of Senica next season.  Back in the hotel much earlier than expected, it was obvious we hadn’t missed anything as chants of “Sebo-gol Sebo-gol, Sebo-gol” resonated through the thin walls from an adjacent room. It turns out we weren’t the only Slovan fans in the only hotel in town that night.

Ralph Davies

Ralph is based in Brno & travels all over Czech, and now Slovak football following his beloved Zbrojovka and Slovan. Follow Ralph on Twitter right here.

For a full set of photos from the trip, click here.

And for a video from in the middle of the celebrations at the end, click here.

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May 04 2011

Varga & Weiss; Football in Hockey’s Shadow

Published by under Uncategorized

With all the excitement over the World Ice-Hockey Championship in Slovakia at the moment, you would hardly know that the game of football exists, let alone that there is a potential Corgoň Liga title-decider this week, or the final of the Slovak Cup at the weekend.

Even as a confirmed football fan, though, it’s impossible to deny that the hockey deserves the attention. It’s a fast, skillful, physical and exciting game anyway and, to my uneducated eye at least, this championship has showcased it at something approaching its best. With the possible exception of France, there do not appear to be any weak sides and many of the games have been both close and full of goals. The atmosphere in the stands at Slovakia’s games sounds electric and the Slovak people, many of whom often struggle to find positive things to say about their country, are discovering a sense of patriotism. Living in Žilina, I’m at a disadvantage in not being able to get to the games easily but at least I’m insulated from the worst aspects of the event, such as the rip-offs being perpetrated in certain Bratislava bars.

Football was, of course, always going to struggle to get any of the limelight during this period but it didn’t help itself last Friday evening when a brainless MŠK Žilina met a calculatingly cynical SK Senica and produced a game which only made you constantly look at your watch and count down the minutes till the evening’s hockey match was due to start. Anyway, Senica won and now face Slovan Bratislava tomorrow in that potential decider mentioned in the opening paragraph.

So, hockey and football have combined to put the latter in a rather poor light. Another effect of the hockey is that, because the newspapers are absolutely full of it, you have to look that bit harder to find football stories. But there were two in Saturday’s edition of Šport which, in normal circumstances, would have enjoyed rather more prominence than they actually did since, in Stanislav Varga and Vladimir Weiss, they concerned two of the Slovak game’s better-known figures.

Varga, who won 54 caps for Slovakia as a player and whose club career included spells with Sunderland (twice) and Celtic, recently took over as coach of third tier side Odeva Lipany. On the face of it, this is a move which suits all parties. Lipany are Varga’s hometwon club and were in need of a coach following the resignation of previous incumbent Jozef Kostelník. Varga himself, currently a member of the Slovak national team’s staff, has had his application to train for a UEFA Pro Licence coaching certificate delayed and, with time to fill before Slovakia’s next Euro 2012 qualifier against Andorra, now has the opportunity to gain useful experience. Until Saturday’s 1-0 defeat by Prešov’s reserve side, things were going well for Lipany under Varga ; with seven points from three matches, they had lifted themselves to a safe looking ninth position in the 16-team II Liga Východ.

Asked about his style of coaching, Varga says that he wants his players to look forward to training rather than see it as a chore. He also praises the training programme put in place by Kostelník, saying it is not in great need of change. When he is questioned about the best coaches he’s had first-hand experience of, there is both predictability and the odd surprise in his answers. He thinks highly of Martin O’Neill, who managed him at Celtic, and, of course, of Weiss. Interestingly, he also puts in a good word for Roy Keane, a team-mate at Celtic but also, as Sunderland manager, the man who ended his second spell on Wearside.

As Varga takes his first steps as a head-coach, Weiss is clearly looking to branch out. In common with many national team coaches, he is frustrated at the lack of day-to-day contact with players and wishes to be employed again as a club coach. He has expressed interest in vacancies in Russia, in particular the one at Dinamo Moscow, recently offered to (and turned down by) Wolfsburg boss Felix Magath.

Weiss appears confident in his ability to combine a club job with his position as Slovakia coach. With all the technology available nowadays, he says, there is no great need for him to travel all over the place to watch Slovak players in club action ; three satellite TVs at home can provide him with most of the evidence he needs to assess their current form. Likewise, TV and the internet are also good ways to gain information on the likely tactics of forthcoming opponents. Weiss is not even daunted by the example of Guus Hiddink, who had a rather mixed time in dual roles with Chelsea and the Russian national team. The Russians, claims Weiss, simply self-destructed and that was neither Hiddink’s fault nor a result of his having to juggle two jobs.

It will be interesting to see how all this works out. There is a fairly clear connection between the Varga and Weiss stories since it may well be that the more experience people on the Slovakia coaching-staff, such as Varga, obtain, the less hands-on Weiss will need to be, increasing still more the likelihood of him taking on a club job.

I would also speculate that Weiss would probably prefer to put some distance between himself and the complicated politics which seem to be a feature of life within Slovenský futbalový zväz (SFZ). If he is able to do that, we might even see a renewed freshness in his work with the Slovakia team. Varga, meanwhile, appears to be doing the right thing in learning his trade at what appears to be a well-run lower-division club.

The job prospects of Varga and Weiss may have implications for the future of Slovak football but I am not under the illusion that they are of much interest to many sports fans here at the moment. All the talk in the country is of Tuesday’s hockey game against Russia and quite right too – I’m pretty excited about it myself. Just look elsewhere for analysis of why Slovakia are so crap at power-plays and don’t be surprised if Vladimir Weiss fetches up in Moscow in the not too distant future or Stanislav Varga makes a decent top-level coach one day.

James Baxter

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