Archive for September, 2011

Sep 27 2011

Salzburg v Slovan Preview

Published by under European

Since we posted our previews of Slovan’s first Europa League group stage game, against Athletic Bilbao two weeks ago, there have been all sorts of goings-on at the Bratislava club. Essentially, the crisis coach Vladimír Weiss seemed to be going through got a lot worse, then things started to get better. The club will now hope they can concentrate on the relatively simple matter of the second installment of their Group F adventure, away to Red Bull Salzburg this Thursday.

The Bilbao game did not contribute too much to Weiss’s problems. True, the Basque team won, and deservedly so, but they won because of their own considerable skill, not because they were up against inadequate opposition. That’s not to say the game presented no technical or tactical issues for Weiss to work on, but he could rightly feel pleased that his side competed well for long periods of the game and played some decent football at times, notably in the build-up to Karim Guédé’s equalising goal.

Weiss’s crisis was always of a more domestic nature and it worsened when, three days after the Bilbao fixture, Slovan lost 1-0 at DAC Dunajská Streda, increasing their goalless Corgoň Liga run to four games. On the final whistle, Weiss departed for Bratislava alone in a taxi rather than with his players on the team bus, leaving assistant Boris Kitka to handle the after-match press-conference. When Weiss then didn’t turn up for training on the Tuesday, it was commonly thought he had quit his post. But he emerged the following day to declare that he intended to continue, admitting in the process that he would have lost his temper with reporters if he’d had to answer questions after the DAC game. It was also explained that Tuesday’s absence was due to lengthy meetings with the Slovan hierarchy to discuss the side’s poor domestic form and ways of moving forward. A week on and a Slovak Cup victory at Pezinok and a 2-1 league win over Košice tentatively suggest that the worst is over.

For me, this whole episode is further evidence that, both psychologically and tactically, Weiss and his teams are better suited to facing apparently more talented sides, and in bigger games, than they are to trying to cause problems for the likes of Nitra or DAC. The Corgoň Liga might be poor but that means you are not easily forgiven when you are unable to even create chances in games everyone expects you to win comfortably. Also, of course, it’s no use putting men behind the ball against most Slovak teams and waiting for them to leave you space for counter-attacks because you’ll be waiting until the referee blows the final whistle. But those are the tactics Weiss instinctively favours and they have served him well in European and international competition over the years.

I’m a little out of touch with who is in or out of form for Slovan at present, but I will be surprised if they don’t face Salzburg with a 4-2-3-1 formation. Oddly, perhaps the biggest problem with that surrounds the player who should be their most dangerous – striker Filip Šebo. Šebo showed glimpses of form against Bilbao and scored against both Pezinok and Košice. This is encouraging news, even if goals against a Slovak third tier side and one of the Corgoň Liga’s weaker outfits do need to be seen in the context of the oppposition’s limitations. The real problem with Šebo as a lone forward, as his coach has admitted, is that he is not a natural at playing with his back to goal and thus isn’t much help when Slovan are trying to retain the ball in their opponents’ half. It’s a tricky problem to solve ; if you drop Šebo, you remove a player who, for all the question-marks against him, has plenty of pace and is still the most likely source of a goal. Give him an out-and-out strike partner, on the other hand, and you lose some of your midfield strength. For now, I suspect he’ll continue ploughing a one-man furrow up front, with Weiss hoping that the Pezinok and Košice goals will at least have increased his confidence.

The Slovan player whose performance against Bilbao really caught the eye was Ivorian youngster Mamadou Bagayoko. He has limitless energy and is able to play as a full-back or wide midfielder, on either left side or right. On Thursday, he may well find himself up against Salzburg’s Slovak winger Dušan Švento. If so, it will be an individual contest worth watching, all the more so since Švento might feel he has something to prove to Weiss, having not been selected by him for last year’s World Cup squad, or for any international games since.

To conclude, I will offer a tentative, history-based forecast for Thursday‘s game. In 2005, Weiss’s Artmedia side lost their opening Champions League group game, 1-0 at home to Inter Milan. As with Slovan against Bilbao, Artmedia didn’t do much wrong but their opponents were, as expected, that bit classier. In their next game, away to Porto, Artmedia stormed to a 3-2 victory. I can’t see Slovan scoring three goals in Austria but I do think we’ll see them put their problems a little further behind them and earn their first point of the stage, courtesy of a 1-1 draw. Let‘s go even further and predict that a hulking defender, Marián Had for example, will wander forward for a set-piece and become the hero.

James Baxter

18 responses so far

Sep 27 2011

Slovakia Squad for Russia & Macedonia

Published by under International

Vladimir Weiss has announced his latest squad for the 2 crucial Euro 2012 qualifiers against Russia and Macedonia

GOALKEEPERS: Ján Mucha (Everton), Dušan Perniš (Dundee United)

DEFENDERS: Radoslav Zabavník (1. FSV Mainz), Peter Pekarík (Kayserispor), Martin Škrtel (Liverpool), Ľubomír Michalík (Carlisle United), Ján Ďurica (Lokomotiv Moskva), Kornel Saláta (FK Rostov), Tomáš Hubočan (Zenit St Petersburg), Marek Čech(Trabzonspor AS)

MIDFIELDERS: Karim Guédé (Slovan Bratislava), Juraj Kucka (Genoa), Miroslav Karhan (Spartak Trnava), Róbert Jež (Polonia Warsaw), Igor Žofčák (Slovan Bratislava), Marek Hamšík (SSC Napoli), Vladimír Weiss Jr. (Espanyol), Miroslav Stoch (Fenerbahce Istanbul)

ATTACKERS: Juraj Piroska (FK Senica), Filip Hološko (Besisktas Istanbul), Filip Šebo (Slovan Bratislava), Erik Jendrišek (SC Freiburg)

Attention is immediately drawn to our attacking options; just 4 strikers in a squad for matches which absolutely must be won seems a bit light, to say the least.  One Slovak striker who has been scoring at the highest level this season, Viktoria Plzeň’s Marek Bakoš, is only on the reserves list along with team-mate Michal Ďuriš and Stanislav Šesták.

Some fans will be questioning the selection of Filip Šebo, given his recent form, I don’t think it’s a bad thing to have him in the squad, but just looking at the clubs of the selected attackers, you really fear whether this is the strike force to take us to Euro 2012.

Maybe Weiss is counting on goals from his midfielders, the selection there and in defence once again contains the standard crop of players spread around all corners of European club football.  If ever there was a time for Slovakia’s footballing superstars to stand up and be counted, this is it.

Slovakia play Russia in Zilina on Friday 7th October and Macedonia in Skopje 4 days later.  Failure to beat the Russians will effectively end Slovakia’s hopes of qualifying for the tournament in neighbouring Poland and Ukraine next year.

One response so far

Sep 25 2011

Žilina 2-0 Nitra

Published by under Domestic

The sports press had billed this as ‘game of the round’ and, since it was 2nd v 4th and Trnava and Slovan had seemingly comfortable home fixtures, I suppose that was a fair description.

For Žilina fans, though, there were a few factors to cause apprehension. Their side had won only one home game out of five, while Nitra’s away record looked quietly impressive. The visitors also appeared much-improved since last season and had the Corgoň Liga’s best defensive record going into the game. Nitra also have a recent record of causing shocks at Štadión pod Dubňom ; as a newly-promoted side they won 5-2 there on the opening day of the 2005/2006 season, were the only visiting side to pick up a point there in the following campaign and were the only one to leave victorious in 2009/2010. And Žilina’s injury list didn’t make encouraging reading either, especially with Viktor Pečovský, man-of-the-match at Ružomberok the week before, adding his name to it.

Still, since Trnava’s strong, cohesive-looking team won here five weeks ago, I’ve actually found myself enjoying Žilina games again. This is in stark contrast with 2010/2011, when  expectations of retaining the title, bitterness over the way the club ran its Champions League campaign and the rancour over the spring home fixture with Slovan combined to produce an angst-ridden season. Now, a new, young team is beginning to emerge, players who’ve been at the club for a while are finding new roles and some attractive football is being played. Even the fact that the players are still prone to mistakes helps in suppressing expectation wherever it threatens to emerge. Let Slovan and Trnava deal with the pressure for now.

Saturday’s game was effectively won inside the first half-hour. After 8 minutes, following fine passes from Jean Deza and Miroslav Barčík, Róbert Pich stepped inside his marker and produced a brilliant curled finish from just inside the penalty-area. Chances came and went for the next 20 minutes or so, then a Deza run into the box was halted by a crunching tackle from Peter Kaspřak. The right-back was shown his second yellow-card of the game and, as he made for the showers, Patrik Mráz’s reliable left foot converted the penalty. Nitra immediately substituted Róbert Rák, captain, and scorer of a hat-trick in that 5-2 win six years ago, in favour of an orthodox replacement for Kaspřák. In theory that should have made Žilina’s task even easier but their performance over the game’s last hour was far from the model demonstration of how to play against ten men. True, they might have increased their lead – Barčík and Mráz were both unlucky with fine efforts from distance – but  Nitra often found space in midfield and created a few chances of their own. Their forwards should be asking themselves why they never even tested Martin Krnáč in the Žilina goal.

Still, several individual performances should encourage the home side. Ernest Mabouka, the Cameroon-born right-back gets better and better, while Stanislav Angelovič, displaced by Mabouka, is learning how to play the midfield holding role. Pich had a rare 90-minute outing as a central striker and, his goal apart, displayed great pace and technique. Also, a further worrying injury, to defender Jozef Piaček, was balanced by Zdeno Štrba’s return from a near six-month absence. Štrba looked rusty and had to be bailed out by defensive colleagues on a couple of occasions but hopefully, with this half-hour appearance behind him, he’ll be back to his best soon.

But the player of most interest to Žilina fans right now is Deza. Quite what an 18 year-old from Peru is doing in provincial northern Slovakia is a question worth asking but he is certainly a talent. He loves running with the ball and, when he chooses the right moment, passes it well too. The fact that he has been involved in the last four goals Žilina have scored is evidence of how useful he has been. What sort of longer-term impact he will have is another matter. He has not yet managed to play more than 60 minutes at a time and appeared to effectively substitute himself on Saturday, walking to the bench and sitting down before his replacement had even stripped off. He also seems to annoy both referees and his own team-mates, to say nothing of opponents, by going to ground and staying there every time he is tackled. In truth, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was still in a state of culture-shock but, given a little more time to adapt to Slovakia and with some strong and sympathetic handling, both he and Žilina could benefit from their association.

At the other end of the age-scale from Deza was Nitra’s former Slovak international midfielder Ivan Hodúr, whose performance, though in a losing cause, was as good as any on the home side. Unlike Deza, he’s not a player you immediately notice but he’s always worth following through a game for the way he finds space for himself and almost never wastes a pass. As with Deza, though for different reasons, you wonder why it’s the Corgoň Liga that’s getting the benefit of his skills.

Bad news for Žilina is that they now have two away games to play with a far from full-strength squad. Paradoxically, however, I’m more worried by another effect of yesterday’s victory. Combined with Trnava’s surprising home loss to Ružomberok (courtesy of two comical goals, I note from the TV highlights), it sends Žilina to the top of the league. Expectation will be rearing its head again.

James Baxter

3 responses so far

Sep 19 2011

DAC Dunajksa Streda 1-0 SK Slovan Bratislava

Published by under Uncategorized

Just when we thought things couldn’t get any worse in the league (2 points & 0 goals from 3 matches), Slovan have contrived to produce the worst result I can possibly think of, losing 1-0 away at bottom of the table DAC.  Local rivals, no less.

This was a vitally important match, in my opinion, for exactly the reason we’re sure to find out; nothing to do with the lost ground in the league, rather with the  position of huge scrutiny Vladimir Weiss now finds himself in, just weeks after taking the job and things seemingly going so well.  What will this defeat now do for the ‘spirit’ in the camp.  It won’t take long for the fans to turn against the coach, and what must be happening amongst the players after this latest debacle?  Before we know it, attendances will be back below 2,000 and no-one will want to sign for this club.

The selection against DAC contained exactly the same back 4 and 3 of the midfielders who played against Bilbao:

Hrosso – Bagayoko, Dobrotka, Had, Pauschek – Grendel, Zofcak, Guede, Taborsky – Lacny, Hartig

Milinkovic, Kordic and Halenar were used off the bench.

My problem is with the 3 players I haven’t personally seen play.  The 3 loanees brought in from the Czech Republic to strengthen the squad before the transfer window closed.  Quite what is the quality and motivation of these players (Taborsky, Lacny & Hartig)?  At least Weiss played 2 up front for this match, but Lacny and Hartig, what will they achieve if they can’t break down the defence of the team bottom of the league?  Why didn’t Halenar start the match?  He didn’t even feature against Bilbao.  And why didn’t Stepanovsky, the hero of Rome (but also not used against Bilbao) get a game today?

According to Michal Petrak, a Czech football journalist, Hartig would be better suited playing alongside a proven goal-scorer, so I really can’t understand why Halenar didn’t start if Weiss insisted on playing Hartig.

An interesting stat provided by Michal:

Games/goals in Cz league: Hartig 124/20, Lačný 15/0, Táborský 128/17

And an even better quote: “To combine these three strikers and expect goals is a mistake, I’d say.”

I’m disappointed, and shooting from the hip basically to stir up some (constructive) debate, I haven’t seen anything of the match, and credit must be given to DAC, who’s defence is obviously not that bad, and got the result which now lifts them well back in touch at the bottom of the table after their disastrous start.  Personally I would like DAC to stay in the league, so good luck to them.

Next Slovan go to Pezinok in the cup, they might as well play the reserves, who play in the same league as Pezinok, give the 1st team a rest, they obviously need it.  Next Saturday Slovan host Kosice at Pasienky, while the excuse can be used this weekend that this was an away match after a tough European tie, next week there will be absolutely no hiding places for Weiss and his troops.  The only solace may be that the upcoming run of fixtures (Kosice, Presov, Trencin) should offer as good a chance of getting out of this hole as any, but on the other hand, if things don’t improve, one only wonders what might happen ..

Weiss didn’t even face the press, and his assistant Boris Kitka admitted the following:

“It is difficult to find words. We are in crisis, and tired of the cup matches.”

Well, WE might be talking of crisis, but what message does that send out?  Admitting to being in crisis just 3 weeks after one of the greatest nights in the club’s history.  Tired of the cup matches?  Wow, that’s worrying – we’ve still got 5 more to go Boris!  Hardly professional or giving a reassurance that they will turn things around, is it?


Slovan do toho ..

11 responses so far

Sep 18 2011

Ružomberok 1-2 Žilina

Published by under Domestic

My requirements for a good away trip with Žilina are not too exacting. They are a straightforward journey to the venue and back, plenty of cover should it be needed and reasonably friendly locals. Ružomberok satisfies all of these, so Saturday’s visit to our friends from the Liptov region was one to look forward to.

Loving setting, lovely day. It's time for Ruza away!

There are two good reasons for Žilina fans to quite like Ružomberok. One is that, besides Žilina themselves, they are the only provincial, non-Ivan Kmotrík club to have won the Corgoň Liga in the past decade. They did it with their fantastic, but sadly one-off, 2005/2006 side, which, with Marek Sapara, Erik Jendrišek and Igor Žofčák in the ranks, proved much too good for nearest challengers Artmedia and Trnava.

The current ‘Ruža’ coach Ladislav Jurkemík also maintains the respect of those of a yellow and green persuasion, having transformed Žilina’s disappointing winter 2003 form into a sprint to the title the following spring. Personally, I will always associate Jurkemík with the then little-known Stanislav Šesták, who arrived at Štadión pod Dubňom in February 2004 and immediately began to terrorise Corgoň Liga defenders with his speed and ability to score goals from just about anywhere. While Róbert Jež is the best and most consistent player I’ve seen in a Žilina shirt, Šesták is the most exciting and Jurkemík is the coach who first utilised his potential.

Sadly, table-topping glories must now be very distant memories for both Ružomberok and Jurkemík. The club managed to grind its way to a mid-table finish last season, largely because a run of clean sheets compensated for an unproductive attack, and started this season’s league campaign in similarly unspectacular style, though they did earn a surprise victory over Slovan Bratislava two weeks ago. Then, in last week’s round of cup matches they contrived to throw away a 2-0 lead over third tier side Dolná Ždaňa to draw 2-2 and lose the resulting penalty shoot-out.

The fall-out from the Ždaňa defeat has been significant. Jurkemík has demoted three members of the first-team squad to the reserves and stripped Tomáš Ďubek, the side’s best creative player of the last year or so, of the captaincy. Meanwhile, the club hierarchy has decreed that the players will be collectively fined a total of 45,000 Euros, with the money paying for supporters’ admission to the following three Corgoň Liga home matches, starting with the Žilina fixture. I have to say that, even as a beneficiary of this gesture, I consider it a silly gimmick. Specific compensation for those away fans who travelled to Dolný Ždaňa would have been fair enough (Wigan and Arsenal have set recent precedents for this) but Ruža’s actions basically amount to an open invitation to people from the town and beyond to come and witness a form of public self-flagellation. There’s also the rather significant fact that, due to cash-flow problems which have not yet gone away, the players were often not paid on time last season. It shouldn’t be such a surprise that they occasionally under-perform when that level of financial uncertainty has been hanging over them.

When you see the Ružomberok ground, you don’t need any of this background to understand where the club’s problems lie. With smart, modern stands on the sides contrasting with two large empty spaces where the end stands should be, it’s obvious that they once had plans for an impressive stadium but then ran out of money. At times in 2006, the extra capacity would have come in handy but it has rarely been needed since. On Saturday, even free admission couldn’t ensure that all the 5,000 currently available seats were filled.

On the field, the game turned out to be much more exciting than the away team will feel it should have been. Žilina were 2-0 up within half an hour ; Jozef Piaček took charge of a bout of penalty area pinball to smash in the first goal and David Střihavka added a second following a slick combination between Peruvian winger Jean Deza and Tomáš Majtán. Majtán had the ideal opportunity to effectively seal the game before half-time but his penalty kick, awarded after Deza’s mazy run had been crudely halted by Jan Kostelný, was well saved by Libor Hrdlička.

It was partly a piece of quick thinking by Jurkemík which brought Ruža back into the game  early in the second period. No doubt aware that Žilina’s Marcel Ondráš is not the most physically imposing of centre-backs, the home coach sent on tall substitute striker Tomáš Krbeček just as his team were preparing for an attacking free-kick. Into the penalty-area went the ball, up went Krbeček for the challenge, the ball dropped and former Slovan favourite Pavol Masaryk hooked it into the net. Žilina themselves then made a change, with striker Střihavka making way for midfielder Peter Šulek. The effect of this was initial confusion, since whatever instructions Šulek had brought onto the field with him didn’t seem to be grasped by his team-mates ; there were plenty of animated conversations before the team settled into its new system. Ruža pressed hard for an equaliser but a mixture of poor luck and some good defending kept them out, with Ondráš proving that skill and courage often compensate for lack of inches.

I don’t have high expectations for Žilina this season. Given the combination of a new coaching set-up and major changes to the squad over recent weeks, it will take time to find the best way to move forward. Two hopes I do have are that the side will back up their good away results with a home win very soon and that Viktor Pečovský, outstanding in central-midfield at Ružomberok, will be around to play a major role at the club for some time to come. Ruža, I feel, would be well-advised to cancel, or at least suspend, their players’ punishment and put some trust in the sort of professional pride that Saturday’s second-half performance revealed.

Open ends don't detract from the experience today.

Away from the pitch, well, the ground might not have been full but there was still fun to be had. The Žilina fans sang and danced their way through the game while the home followers found time, in between urging their side on and letting referee Michal Smolák know that certain of his decisions might have been made differently, to offer shots of borovička. Whatever my feelings about the decision of the Ružomberok board, I can’t complain about seeing my team win for free and getting a bit merry with the locals in the process. All in all, this was a day out that did just a bit more than fulfil my usual demands.

James Baxter

6 responses so far

Sep 14 2011

Slovan v Bilbao Preview(s)

Published by under European

Ahead of this massively important fixture for Slovan Bratislava, the ‘team’ here have decided to independently contribute previews of the match.  Firstly, myself; the Slovan fan, with a few thoughts including a personal team selection, followed by Slovak football (MSK Zilina) fan and regular blog contributor James Baxter below; read, enjoy & perhaps compare our thoughts …

Slovan Bratislava go into their first ever European group stage match slightly off form, but with the team spirit built through this European run fully in tact.  There is no doubt that since the victory in Rome and the group stage draw, Slovan’s players have been focussed on this moment.  I wouldn’t say Corgon Liga matches have been a distraction, but the players cannot really be blamed for focussing fully on the Group F opener tomorrow night at Pasienky against Athletic Bilbao.

The spanish outfit qualified by virtue of finishing 6th in La Liga last season and passed the playoff round by default due to the promotion of Trabzonspor direct to the Champions League.  The Basques have had a slow start to the season, a draw in the opening league match with Real Vallecano was followed by defeat at Vladimir Weiss Jr’s new club Espanyol (Weiss was on the bench but didn’t play).

Surely Weiss will have spoken to his father after that match, and Slovan are usually pretty thorough with their scouting of prospective European opponents, so there shouldn’t be too many surprises in store tomorrow night.  It will be more a question of quality, spirit, and of course tactics.

Slovan haven’t scored a goal since Peter Stepanovsky’s 81st minute equaliser in Rome, and they haven’t won a match since the 1-0 victory at Pasienky over the Italians almost a month ago.  Drawing blanks at home to Zlate Moravce and Nitra and defeat at Ruzomberok have led coach Vladimir Weiss to speak increasingly strong words against his players in the press conferences.  Weiss must surely be feeling the pressure on the goal-scoring front, considering also the recent National Team results.

The players seem to know they haven’t been performing, and whether they admit it publicly or not, I am sure this European campaign is affecting domestic performances.  There simply isn’t the strength in depth to spread the work-load, although several debutants acquired towards the end of the transfer window featured against Nitra.  New goalkeeper Lukas Hrosso kept a clean sheet against his old club, but I can’t believe he will be a straight first choice replacement for Matus Putnocky who has had a superb start to the season.  19-year-old Brazilian midfielder Ze Vitor also played 90 minutes against Nitra, transferred directly from Sao Paulo (have Slovan got scouts in Brazil?!), you would think the lad needs more time to adjust before the high pressure environment against Bilbao.

Filip Sebo was suspended last week, so a new look strike force of Juraj Halenar and Lukas Hartig (signed from Bohemians 1905) were charged with producing a goal.  Sadly it didn’t happen but with such poor service it is hard to judge the effectiveness of this partnership.  Halenar has had a good start domestically, suspended in Europe so far, he should feature tomorrow although most likely from the bench.  The only absentee, it seems, will be defender Erik Cikos, injured early on against Nitra.  So, the question of selection will depend largely on how offensive (or not) Weiss starts off in a match where you’d think Slovan will have as good a chance as any of acquiring group stage points.

Just for fun, here’s the team (4-1-3-2) I would select for Slovan tomorrow:

Putnocky – Stepanovsky, Had, Dobrotka, Bagayoko – Kladrubsky – Guede, Zofcak, Grendel – Sebo, Halenar

Somehow, I fear Weiss may start slightly more conservative.  Most likely he will keep us guessing for most of tomorrow ..

Due to confusion over the venue and delays with the release of information (individual tickets only went on sale on Monday), I don’t think ticket sales have been spectacular so far.  The club are advertising match-day ticket sales up to the end of the first half:

Hopefully we’ll see a near-full Pasienky and a great atmosphere on the night to carry Slovan through a massively important and tough match.

Finally, welcome to visiting Bilbao fans, enjoy your time in Bratislava and the match.

Slovan do toho!

Dan Richardson


Speaking in the press-conference which followed his side’s miserable 0-0 draw at home to Nitra on Saturday, Slovan Bratislava coach Vladimir Weiss reminded me of a despairing schoolteacher bemoaning the latest ‘efforts’ of a particularly idle bunch of 15-year olds. ‘It was an awful performance, very very poor.’ said Weiss, ‘We can’t go on like this. We had one chance in the whole game. There’s no way we deserved to win.’ What struck me most was less Weiss’s words than his body language. He didn’t look or sound angry. He radiated resignation and, most of all, tiredness. There were black rings under his eyes. He looked as if he wanted to go home, draw the curtains, go to bed and sleep until spring.

It has been a strange few weeks for Weiss. Since he oversaw a totally unexpected Europa League victory over AS Roma, he has watched Slovan fail to seriously disturb either Ružomberok or Nitra in the Corgoň Liga and seen his national team players give a creditable, if toothless, performance in Ireland before capitulating at home to Armenia. In four successive games, in other words, his sides are without a goal. Given that, and the sheer volume of work he must be faced with at present, Weiss could be forgiven if he did indeed feel more like hibernating than seeing what Athletic Bilbao have in store for Slovan in the first game in Europa League Group F on Thursday. As if to further minimise expectation among Slovan fans, Weiss describes Bilbao as ‘like a version of Barcelona’ and their coach, former Chile supremo Marcelo Bielsa, as the ‘best in the world’ at his job.

But we have been here before with Weiss. So many times, his teams have plunged their fans, and the coach himself, into a state of deep pessimism only to quickly, and spectacularly, redeem themselves against more-fancied opponents. Artmedia Bratislava were 2-0 down away to Porto in the 2005/2006 Champions League only to storm back for a 3-2 win. In spring 2009, Slovakia were humiliated 4-0 by England at Wembley three days before heading to Prague and outplaying the Czechs. Near the end of the World Cup qualifying campaign, a limp 2-0 defeat at home to Slovenia appeared to have ended all hopes of going to South Africa. Then, decimated by injuries and suspensions, Weiss’s men ploughed through the Chorzow snow to win beat Poland 1-0 and qualify after all. In South Africa, Weiss himself seemed to be going through a nervous breakdown following a loss to Paraguay in the second group fixture. He subsequently engineered a famous win over Italy, which sent the holders out of the competition and Slovakia to the last 16. Given that history, and bad though Slovan were against Nitra, Bilbao will know they have to be prepared for eagar, well-organised, potentially dangerous opposition on Thursday.

Weiss will certainly use the players and tactics he trusts most against the Basques. Slovan might be struggling to score goals at present but at least they aren’t conceding many, so Matúš Putnocký will probably continue in goal, despite the recent signing of Lukáš Hroššo from Nitra, with Martin Dobrotka and Marián Had forming a solid central defence. Ahead of them, expect to see Jiří Kladrubský and Karim Guédé as mostly holding midfielders, though the former likes to shoot from long-range and the latter will maraud forward occasionally. Igor Žofčák should be there to provide a little finesse and one of Filip Šebo or loan signing Lukáš Hartíg will run around in attack. Hartíg strikes me as a typical Weiss player and, in fact, he had a spell with Artmedia during that 2005/2006 season. He’s a hard-running, experienced forward with a surprising amount of European experience. Also, having played in Bratislava before, he should have settled in pretty quickly. A good addition all round.

If I was a Bilbao fan, however, I think I would be almost as worried about the Pasienky factor as about the Slovan team or Weiss’s tactics. I haven’t played football to a high level but I know what effect things like the pitch or facilities at an away ground can have. When the junior sides I played for travelled to a venue with spacious changing-rooms, hot showers and a pristine playing surface, we were immediately, without even thinking about it, motivated to do well, to give a performance which would do justice to our surroundings (I’m by no means saying we were always good enough to win, just that getting into the right frame of mind for the game came easier). When we turned up at a sloping cow-field and had to change in a leaky wooden shack, by contrast, the default instinct was to feel demotivated. Bilbao are seasoned professionals, of course, so should be able to rise above the embarrassingly primitive stadium they have to perform in on Thursday. Yet the fact is that, in terms of results, Pasienky isn’t doing at all badly as a home venue for either Slovan or Slovakia. I can’t believe that’s down to its atmosphere, which can never be truly intimidating in such an open ground. I’m far more ready to believe that its facilities, such as they are, do have a subtly deflating effect on away teams, and thus help the hosts.

I’ve given up on predictions and I won’t be risking my money on this game. The footballing quality will surely be on Bilbao’s side but I can’t help feeling that the combination of Weiss’s apparent crisis and one of the shabbiest stadiums in European football will be neutralising factors. It should be an interesting occasion anyway.

James Baxter




8 responses so far

Sep 11 2011

Slovan Juniors 4-3 FC ŠTK 1914 ŠAMORÍN

Published by under Domestic

On hearing the name ‘Slovan Juniors’, I suppose the natural assumption is that we’re talking about the Slovan youth team.  That is not actually the case; Slovan Juniors is the name given to Slovan Bratislava’s reserve team.  Slovan Juniors play in Division 2 West, now known as Division 3 which makes more sense; this is the third tier of Slovak football.  Spartak Trnava and FC Nitra’s 2nd teams also knock around in the West section of this division, along with Kosice, Presov and Banska Bystrica’s collective reserve teams in the East.  Interestingly, the only Slovak outfit with a reserve team in the 2nd Division is MFK Ruzomberok.  This being the case, one assumes that promotion is possible for any of the aforementioned teams.

What makes the Division interesting, in my view, is that you get to see reserve players from professional squads mixing it with some ambitious local lads.  Slovan v Samorin was a typical example of this.  Most matches in this Division do kick off on a Saturday afternoon, but there are always one or two on a Sunday morning.   Interestingly, on this particularly beautiful Sunday in Bratislava, a groundhopping football fan like myself had the choice between FC Petrzalka v Tatran Liptovsky Mikulas (1-2) in Division 2 or the Slovan match for a 10:30 am kick-off .  I’d missed the 1st team’s 0-0 draw with Nitra the evening before, so I decided to plump for the Juniors.  No regrets to be had.

Training pitches adjacent to Pasienky host Slovan Juniors

Turning up at Pasienky, I was only 90% sure the match was being played at that venue.  The 10% proved right, in fact the match was being played on a training pitch adjacent to the stadium currently subject to multiple UEFA reviews ahead of the upcoming Europa League group stage fixtures.  No problem there, this could be considered another new ground!  I made my way through the flea market occupying the Pasienky car-park and a quick flash of the season ticket saw me in.  It wasn’t quite so straight-forward though; another steward called me back for further ticket inspection; they were obviously adamant on acquiring €2 entry from as many people as possible.  Compared to FK Raca (who played in the same league last season but got relegated, charging free entry to matches), I was slightly surprised.

I’d actually seen Šamorin at Raca last season, and knew they weren’t bad, so I was expecting a decent match.  Pleasing to hear was the Slovan team selection which included Bosnian striker Kresimir Kordic and a talented attacking midfielder Radoslav Augustin, who we saw playing on loan for Petrzalka at the end of last season.  A Petrzalka-supporting friend of mine felt slightly bitter that Augustin returned to Slovan this season, but he was there on loan, so there are no complaints to be had, I think.  Augustin is on the verge of the Slovan first team, and watching a match like this it is clear to see why.  Even to a non-tactician like me, players of that quality simply have more space, more time on the ball, a better touch and vision beyond the majority of players around them.

Aspiring 1st-teamers, Augustin & Kordic

The level does bring players down and there were plenty of fouls and long balls in this match, but this didn’t stop Augustin and Kordic doing their thing,  and the pro-duo were rewarded through a decent opening goal for Kordic.  Šamorin equalised with a penalty on the stroke of half-time, and it was 1-1 at the break.  5 minutes into the 2nd half, things came to life, Šamorin’s striker Kuba gave the visitors the lead with a finish equal to Kordic’s in the first half, and the visiting support (of whom there were plenty scattered around the crowd of approx. 200) made themselves heard.  Immediately thereafter though, a calamitous own-goal brought Slovan level, and a minute later they were ahead through a thunderbolt from left-back Čejtej.  A fourth was added after a speculative punt forward by a very junior looking substitute right-back was superbly flicked through by Kordic; his run led to Augustin finishing a goal of the quality the senior team would die for right now; 3 domestic matches goal-less is slightly worrying ahead of the Athletic Bilbao match coming Thursday.

Šamorin added a consolation goal in injury time, and the score-line did justice to the match; good entertainment on a hot Sunday morning in Bratislava.  I’ll monitor Augustin’s progress with interest, but I fear Kordic may return to his native Bosnia this winter; he produces moments of brilliance, but is inconsistent; frustrating and overall just not quite good enough.  Then again, until any Slovan striker starts scoring, there is always a chance he might find his way into the first team.

Sunny Sunday morning football; what's not to like?

The Juniors are 2nd in the league after this win, and for me this was a first experience of a ‘reserve’ team playing competitive football in a lower division, I can only see positives in it; for clubs like Slovan or Trnava just as much as Šamorin, who did themselves proud today.

A fine finishing touch was added, seeing Karim Guede watching on from the car-park, and having the time for a quick chat, topped a fine morning.


14 responses so far

Sep 09 2011

Back to domestic affairs

Published by under Uncategorized

Personally I’ve been back in the UK on holiday for the last week, so many thanks to James for the write-ups on the National team performances during a very disappointing week for Slovak football fans.  Yes we do strangely find ourselves in a position where we could still qualify for Euro 2012 as group winners.  But, we also find ourselves in a position where even the most optimistic of fans is surely questioning the supposed collective quality of all these individual ‘superstars’ who get thrown together every few weeks from their respective millionaire surroundings around European football.   Marek Hamsik claiming that Slovakia were the better team after getting beat 0-4 ??  Come on, there is something not right there, surely?  Jan Durica on that last goal against Armenia, what exactly WAS he doing?

Anyway, back to domestic affairs this weekend.  Slovan are playing on a Saturday for, I think, the first time this season, hosting the resurgent FC Nitra at Pasienky.  Typical for me I arrive back to Bratislava late that evening, so will have to get my dose of Slovan for this week from the Juniors at home to Samorin on Sunday morning.  Having not scored in their last 2 league outings, and with Nitra emerging as a serious contender this season, Vladimir Weiss will be desperate for a top-notch domestic performance this time around.  There can be no excuses, even for the Internationals in the squad, of whom relatively little was seen during the recent qualifiers.

2 other teams on 12 points along with Nitra, are Zilina & Zlate Moravce.  Quietly Zilina have manoeuvred themselves into a position where they could go top this weekend if results go their way.  Trnava v Banska Bystrica is another pairing up of contenders, so this is certainly an interesting round of fixutres in the Corgon Liga.  Can DAC get their first point of the season at Presov, I doubt it, they really look dead and buried already and the other fixture tomorrow pairs Trencin and Kosice.

It all starts tonight though, Senica v Ruzomberok, two teams currently in mid-table who will be looking to catch up with the leading pack.  Enjoy the games if you’re off to them, look forward to reviewing the weekends action in a few days ..

3 responses so far

Sep 07 2011

Slovakia 0-4 Armenia

Published by under International

Thinking about this game on Monday, I sent an email to a friend. ‘Where are the goals going to come from?’ I wondered. On Tuesday morning, I had a reply. ‘There could be an avalanche around the corner,’ my friend wrote. Now I think we can indeed call 4-0 an avalanche in footballing terms, especially in the context of a game like this and even more especially when all the goals come within the space of 33 second-half minutes, but clearly we didn’t expect that it would be Slovakia who found themselves buried.

With Juraj Kucka suspended, Vladimír Weiss was forced to make one change to the side which drew 0-0 in Dublin. I had speculated that perhaps the change would be an attacking one, that a striker such as Stanislav Šesták would come in and that Slovakia would play 4-4-2 rather than 4-2-3-1. Instead, Karim Guédé, the player in the squad most similar to Kucka, took his place.

Early on, with Armenia already putting some neat combinations together, I felt that Weiss had been wise. His team have usually looked better when they have a solid, compact central midfield and it seemed they would be glad of it again here. By the end of the game, though, arguments over formations were looking utterly academic. Slovakia could have had 20 players on the pitch, you felt, and Armenia would still have danced between and around them as though they were training-ground cones.

Let it be emphasised how good Armenia were. Since they beat Slovakia 3-1 in Yerevan last October, Weiss has said, many times, that they are the best footballing side in Group B. He has talked admiringly about their young coach (Vardan Minasjan, at 37, is over a year younger than Sargis Hovesepjan, the 123-cap right-back) and about the exuberance and skill of the team. And we should have been listening. Last night, in Gevorg Ghazarjan, Marcos Pizzelli, Henrich Mchitarjan and Jura Movsisjan, they had an attacking quartet of players who were both effective and excellent to watch. In the first half, it was Pizzelli, wearing number 8, who particularly caught my eye but, as the game wore on, number 18 Mchitarjan, who scored one of the goals and set up another two, became more influential.

You don’t, of course, win a game 4-0 simply by being lucky. Weiss had the dignity to start his post-match interviews by congratulating Armenia on a fine result and excellent performance (perhaps he should have started it with the words ‘I told you so’) but his captain, Marek Hamšík, made the rather bizarre claim that Slovakia had been the better side. The reality was that, in contrast to the neat, nimble visitors, Slovakia were lumpen. The midfield passing lacked either vision or accuracy, players too often took the wrong options and there was too much resort to the long ball.

But there were chances. Miroslav Stoch shot just over the bar after four minutes, following a through-ball from Guédé that was probably the best pass made by a Slovak all night. Soon afterwards Vladimír Weiss Junior missed what looked like an easy one after being set up by Stoch (the angle might have been tighter than it looked from my seat so I won’t judge him too harshly). In the second-half, with his team just 1-0 down, Hamšík chested down a chip from Martin Škrtel and blasted the ball into the South Stand. That, I will readily agree, was the sort of chance a truly top-class player would have put away. A bit later on, during a little flurry of attacking at 0-2, Peter Pekarík smashed a volley at the sprawling Roman Berezovskij in the Armenian goal. Don’t let any of that, or Hamšík’s words, suggest Slovakia might have earned, or deserved, a better result, though. Ján Mucha in their goal made more than his share of saves, and Škrtel made a couple of his characteristic last-ditch, body-on-the-line blocks. Armenia could have scored more goals themselves and they were definitely, no question at all, worthy of the three points.

Everybody following this group will know how open it still is, and that the top four teams all still have a chance of qualifying for the tournament proper in Poland and Ukraine. One remarkable statistic is that, partly thanks to their 7-1 superiority in games between the sides, Armenia have scored a total of 17 goals to Slovakia’s 6, yet the sides remain equal on points.  All sorts of final permutations are still possible but it would take too much time and space to discuss them all here.

However, I would like to say a few concluding words about is the stadium issue. Off the field, Žilina proved once again that it is Slovakia’s most suitable temporary home. With a decent crowd in – and the 7,200 attendance doesn’t quite do justice to the locals since some of the empty seats were not available for general sale – and especially under floodlights, it is close to the ideal venue for a match like this. Any neutrals in the ground last night would have enjoyed not only Armenia’s performance but also the surroundings. Yet Slovakia are putting together a worryingly poor record there. Two friendlies before the 2010 World Cup were lost and the side could only draw with Ireland last October. And now Armenia have come, seen and conquered. Bratislava’s Pasienky, on the other hand, is a dump, but home wins have been delivered there. With the still important Russia game to be staged in Žilina next month, I trust the Slovak players won’t be dwelling on thoughts like this over the coming few weeks.

James Baxter

5 responses so far

Sep 04 2011

Ireland 0-0 Slovakia

Published by under International

Slovakia produced arguably their best performance of Euro 2012 qualifying so far on Friday night in Dublin  and will be disappointed at having to share a 0-0 draw with their Irish hosts.

You don’t need Vladimír Weiss Senior’s level of tactical acumen to know how Ireland are going to play. It’s always 4-4-2, with much of the emphasis on getting the ball to the wide men, in this case Aiden McGeady and Damien Duff.  Weiss, predictably, tried to establish control of central midfield by setting his team up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Miroslav Karhan and Juraj Kucka had the deeper roles while Marek Hamšík, Vladimír Weiss Junior and Miroslav Stoch kept switching positions behind lone striker Filip Hološko.

The tactics worked in the sense that Slovakia controlled the game for lengthy periods and passed the ball far better than their opponents. In fact, there were phases where the visitors put up to twelve passes together and, on losing the ball, were immediately given it back again.

The key to this level of control lay in the performances of Karhan and Hamšík. Karhan displayed the calming influence of a veteran and the energy of a man 10 years younger, while Hamšík finally showed fans of the national team why ridiculous sums of money are sometimes mentioned in connection with his name. Ireland found it difficult to keep track of him and his passing was immaculate. It would have been a 10 out of 10 captain’s performance but for the moment when,  with a clear sight of goal following Hološko’s outside-of-the-foot pass, Hamšík took an unnecessary second touch of the ball, allowing a home defender to get his body in the way of the eventual shot.

The incident was a microcosm of Slovakia’s night really because, impressive though they were, they rarely troubled Shay Given. Weiss Junior had the two other best chances, one in each half. He fired straight at the ‚keeper with the first and elected to pass rather than shoot with the second, despite having a clear enough sight of goal. Juraj Kucka, meanwhile, shared Weiss Junior’s tendency to take wrong options, though he did it the other way round, finding the back of the stand with a wild shot when he had team-mates to pass to.

Ján Mucha was no busier than Given, though he did make one decent save, from Duff in the first half. Ireland created some pressure in the last 10 minutes or so –  substitute Simon Cox shot wide after Robbie Keane had, just for once, got behind the Slovak defence to set him up, and there was a succession of corners in injury-time – but you would have to be a very blinkered home fan to suggest that they deserved more than a draw.

Weiss Senior should be encouraged by his team’s efforts but will know too that they still need to find some goals from somewhere. Better decision-making from players when they find themselves within range of the target would clearly help. You also wonder if someone who’s shown in the past that he can score regularly – Stanislav Šesták, for example –  would be worth a chance against Armenia on Tuesday. Weiss Senior has said many times that he feels Armenia’s young, enthusiastic team  play the best football in the group. That might mean that Slovakia get more space to play their own game than they sometimes do when at home.

One thing is clear anyway. While the draw in Dublin is an acceptable result, only a win will do on Tuesday….

James Baxter


7 responses so far