Jul 13 2011

Slovan 2-0 Tobol

Published by at 4:11 pm under European and tagged: , ,

As a neutral fan, I’ve got all sorts of questions about Slovan Bratislava’s dream of playing in this season’s Champions League group stages. Would it be good for Slovan as a club? Would it be good for Slovak football? Do I want them to make it? The answers to all these are, at best, ambivalent.

As for the first question, I’d say Slovan ought to look warily at the experiences of Slovakia’s previous group stage representatives. Košice and the former Artmedia might well now view the competition rather as an average Joe might view a supermodel who agreed to get together with him before walking out a few weeks later with her suitcases full of his money and possessions. For both clubs, the experience was good – and glamorous – while it lasted but they haven’t fully recovered from the trauma it created even now. Žilina, who made last season’s group stages, will wait for time to judge whether that campaign is ultimately going to contribute to their long term happiness and prosperity.

For the Slovak game as a whole, group stage participation for Slovan would mean that its  profile, already raised by the national team’s achievements in the 2010 World Cup and Žilina’s efforts last season, would be further enhanced. The stadium issue, however, would be a cause of deep embarrassment. The idea of Europe’s best teams playing at Pasienky is beyond laughable (though the prospect of, say, Man Utd’s fans in the away end in the rain isn’t totally without appeal) but it would also be pretty demeaning to have to stage home fixtures in Vienna or even, heaven forbid, in Trnava or Žilina.

On a personal level, I’m torn between wanting Slovan to do well for those of their fans I know personally, including (and especially) the main author of this blog, and wanting them to fall flat on their faces. It’s largely the running of the club and the source of its current wealth which gives rise to the latter wish. As for the players, the club has plenty of  admirable performers who deserve the chance to show what they can do on Europe’s best stage. But then there are those seemingly throwaway quotes that emanate an air of self-satisfaction, such as Filip Šebo’s assertion ahead of last night’s first qualifying round first leg tie that facing FC Tobol was going to be ‘like any game where a stronger side is playing a weaker one. The weaker team will just defend. It will be a bit like Slovakia v Andorra’. When I read that, my first thought was ‘you arrogant git’. My second was that my sympathies were going to be with the Kazakh side.

But Slovan won’t care too much about winning neutrals like me over and why should they? For them, the most important question for now is whether they will manage this first stage of qualification and, on last night’s evidence, the answer looks like being yes. Tobol, in their yellow and green strip (another excellent reason to support them), weren’t quite as defensive as Šebo had predicted. They employed a 4-3-3 formation when attacking and attempted to mix a passing game with occasional long balls forward to Zebeljan, their tall number 18. But they rarely looked good enough to seriously question Šebo’s assertion about the relative strengths of the sides.

Slovan, though their squad is largely unchanged from last season, had a slightly unfamiliar look about them. One new signing they have made, Jiří Kladrubský, lined up in midfield, while Marián Had (in central defence) and Juraj Halenár (in a support striker role behind Šebo) were making their first appearances for several months. Kladrubský looks like an excellent addition. His defensive play was intelligent, his passing was simple and precise and he got forward to hit two wickedly swerving long-range shots in the first-half. The Tobol goalkeeper Petuchov tipped the first over the bar but could only knock the second one down to the feet of Šebo, who, as ever, was in exactly the right place and finished without fuss. Coming just three minutes before half-time, that goal eased the frustration that had begun to make itself heard in sections of the home crowd.

Pasienky on a good night

Tobol’s best spell of the game was at the start of the second-half when Džolčijev, their left-sided attacker, had two presentable opportunities. Zebeljan won a long high ball to set up the first and it needed a magnificent recovery tackle from Had to deny Džolčijev the chance of a one-on-one with home keper Putnocký. A few minutes later, the number 22 went clear again but was too slow to make up his mind whether to shoot or pass and ended up doing neither.

Midway through the half, Tobol defender Bogdan was left clutching his face after an aerial challenge with Halenár. The Slovan man was shown his second yellow card of the evening – perhaps partly as a result of the pre-match Zlatý Bažant, I couldn’t recall the first – and it seemed we were in for a tense final quarter. But, as often happens, the team with the numerical advantage didn’t seem to know what to do with it, while their opponents appeared to grow in determination and belief. It was no real surprise when, after 83 minutes, Karim Guédé, running onto a clever pass from Igor Žofčák, lifted the ball over the advancing Petuchov to make it 2-0 to Slovan and, you would imagine, render the second leg a fairly straightforward prospect.

Not a bad night for Slovan then. They weren’t brilliant but then they didn’t need to be. The occasional looseness in their play is forgiveable on the grounds that, in contrast to their opponents, this was their first competitive game of the season and one or two players are not yet fully familiar with each other. Especially positive signs include Had’s performance and the continuing goalscoring form of Šebo. Most encouraging of all, I would say, is that Kladrubský looks like he has much to offer. If he continues to play as he did last night, he and Guédé could give Slovan (should they progress further) the mixture of strength and assurance in midfield that Žilina were short of in last season’s Champions League.

Off the field, Slovan also had a decent night. Their fans still don’t like Pasienky of course but, apart from those few moans that were audible before the opening goal, they made what they could of their surroundings and provided colourful, noisy, completely trouble-free backing. The players, no doubt fed up with Pasienky themselves, clearly appreciated it. That’s a bond that needs maintaining, especially in the event that this shabby venue finds itself playing host to some of Europe’s biggest names later this autumn.

James Baxter

6 responses so far




6 Responses to “Slovan 2-0 Tobol”

  1.   StaryJazvecon 13 Jul 2011 at 5:34 pm

    Nice piece, my recollections of the match were also slighly clouded by pre-match Zlatýs. A decent turnout at Pasienky, over the 5,000 mark and a proper football atmosphere. Expectation is evidently high at Slovan. The worry must be in the event of non-qualification to mega-money and a protracted stay at Pasienky that the gorgeous, pouting moneypot may indeed flounce off in search of another play thing. What kind of shape wld Slovan be in if the cheques stopped being written, I wonder.

  2.   James Baxteron 13 Jul 2011 at 6:55 pm

    Cheers, do I detect a certain relish in that last question? My recollections of the game began to form while the train home was stuck for 60 minutes in Trencianska bloody Tepla waiting for a new engine.

    Apologies for banging on about Pasienky, 4-3-3, holding midfielders etc and barely mentioning the drinking aspects of the day but the latter certainly made the trip worthwhile. Enjoyed meeting all who turned up.

  3.   StaryJazvecon 13 Jul 2011 at 7:57 pm

    Yes, enjoyable, mebbe DR should start a blog focussing on the drinking side of football, or mebbe I will.

  4.   britskibelasion 14 Jul 2011 at 12:12 am

    An enjoyable night was had by all, I believe, and that is the most important thing, why we do it after all. Must admit I was feeling rather content at seeing a Zilina fan and two Petrzalka fans attending Slovan at Pasienky. While you rightly have your reservations, and I fully respect that, I do think we made a good impression on at least 2 of our visitors and besides, the Parisien was probably still thinking about the waitress at that pre-match restaurant!

    Thanks a lot for the write-up James, good to have a semi-impartial view on things. I agree, the second goal was crucial. Slovan showed some good stuff but didn’t move into the ‘next gear’ which will definitely be needed, probably sooner rather than later, if they really want to progress in this competition. I think that match practice point is a valid one, Tobol mid-season were very limited and Slovan did show glimpses of what is possible with a bit more competitive match practice, I suppose. One thing is for sure, in any future rounds they are going to have to be a hell of a lot better than last night.

    Anyway, I think regular readers know we usually sink a few beers when attending Slovak football matches, so it was good to have some tactical perspective on this match. It was the CL after all! Thoroughly enjoyable evening, I’ll leave the money and politics discussions for another time!

  5.   James Baxteron 14 Jul 2011 at 10:49 am

    Yes, good to have a bit of healthy rivalry. When we were on our way to that fateful Zilina-Slovan game back in April, the away fans were chanting 0-7 at us. ‘Very good,’ I thought, ‘but at least we got that far.’ If Slovan get to the group stage and avoid humiliation, they’ll have something over Zilina and the thought is a bit worrying!

    The questions about what that would ultimately mean for Slovan are completely objective but also hypothetical for now. I agree that they’ll need a higher gear if they are to make it but also think the improvement will come naturally with more games. Lenka tells me the TV guys were saying that, in the later qualifying rounds, the teams are generally pretty equal and winning and losing comes down to the ‘minor details’. In that respect, perhaps Slovan’s biggest asset will be Jarolim, who’s been through it all before with Slavia.

    Hopefully Zilina and Trnava will produce the goods this evening.

  6.   Dave Williamson 17 Jul 2011 at 1:37 am

    Thanks James for this very well-crafted piece, which will serve as a lovely souvenir for the Paris/Manchester attendees once other memories from a very balmy Zlaty Bazant-fuelled night start to fade into obscurity.

    Not sure I share your aversion to the ground, all things considered, I didn’t think it was all that bad for football (we did have good seats, mind) and its scoreboard and floodlights were quite charming. Lots here for lower-league fans from the UK to enjoy and ponder upon (the quality of the football itself being about par for the course I suppose given the relative strength of the two teams!)

    It was a great start anyway to a highly enjoyable week’s holiday in Eastern Europe, thanks to all who were there!

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