Sep 07 2011

Slovakia 0-4 Armenia

Published by at 12:05 pm under International and tagged:

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

5 Responses to “Slovakia 0-4 Armenia”

  1.   George Mon 07 Sep 2011 at 12:32 pm

    Good Morning all . Firstly, I should mention Ireland …what an amazing performance, almost Slovak EL like (Roma v Slovan ! ) . They defended deep and sometimes very badly, sometimes like warriors, had only 30% of the play, road their luck to the point of ridicule, made some amazing goal line saves, had zero goal chances themselves, to the Russian twenty odd …but still got a point from the game. The fact is, they are still very much in this group, after the other results tonight. BTW. How can the Russians be allowed to play International games on that awful turf. Doyle almost lost half his face with burn marks, sliding after a tackle on that surface !

    Slovakia . I think we need to get things into total perspective. One Weiss ran out of luck, Two Armenia are not that good and we must realize Slovakia were never that good and were as always 3rd grade, but Weiss became their manager, Three Armenia out maneuvered Weiss and did a ‘Slovakia’ on them …i.e. play deep and survive for 30 mins, attack on the break and see what happens and become more confident, as the game goes on. Slovakia could and should have knocked the stuffing out of the away side by half time, with several missed chances. Hamsik capped off yet another quite miserable game, by missing a complete sitter in the first half, when he just bottled out of a possible collision with the goalkeeper and should have just found the courage to touch in a fine cross in and for the first goal. Weiss then hashed and missed the side foot from two meters ! Perhaps like me he expect Mr Mohawk to score .

    That just about summed up the entire Slovak performance, a total lack of courage and belief, especially after the opposition scored early in the second half. Several staring players looked tired and very stale, after their exploits in Ireland. Weiss should have known to ring the changes, at least at the start with some fresher legs than Karhan and poor dead Holi , instead he played almost the all the same ‘old boys’ the from the start. I mean these Slovak superstars are not used to playing two whole 90 min games in a few days, especially when some of them suffer so badly from hangnail. None of the Slovak player play for a front line Euro team… can argue Skirty if you want, but I consider him second, even third pick in the Liverpool defence. I am also a bit lost why any continental team buys these 3rd 4th grade journeymen Slovak guys to play in their home leagues ( mainly Turks ) , whatever happened to giving home grown talent a chance ?

    So, Slovakia and Weiss instead of being in the driving seat after this game, with the Russians to play at home, they now lay in the car boot, as 4th in the group, with 12 goals less on goal difference, with the team on the same points as them, that has beaten them twice . Perhaps their best and only chance to qualify from this group is to head up and win on points alone!

    I think I should also mention the following… I guess I now see what Everton do see in Mucha. A goal stopper, not a really a goalkeeper. Finally, what a miserable, quiet and low turnout crowd in Zilina …I estimate from my TV view, a ground half full, for this vital game and after the good performance in Ireland..What is wrong with Slovaks ?? Perhaps these games should be all played in Bratislava, whatever ploughed field and coats for goal posts they decide to use!

  2.   James Baxteron 07 Sep 2011 at 2:51 pm

    Thanks for the Ireland account, George. Interesting – and I’d agree about the pitch. Even when these artificial pitches are good (doesn’t sound like this one is), they’re still not grass.
    Reasonable points too about Slovak staleness, Weiss running out of luck etc.

    I still differ on two points. First, I really think we should credit Armenia. They might have been cautious in the 1st 30 mins or so but when they did go forward, you could see they knew how to pass and move dangerously. I was sitting behind the goal they were attacking in the first half and there were a few neat combinations where the final ball was just cut out – usu by Skrtel, sometimes by Mucha rushing from his line. The 2nd half we don’t need to return to!

    As for the stadium, crowd etc, well I agree the turnout was lower than you’d hope for but it must be something to do with the way tickets were sold. In front of us in the South Stand, for example, there were blocks of empty seats which simply never became available on Ticketportal, same in parts of the East Stand. With a proper general sale, they could have got at least another 1,000+ on the gate.

    But do you know what my bigger fear is? That a few of those who bought ‘package’ seats for the 2 matches, or tickets just for the Russia game, will now turn into ‘spekulanti’ and flog them off to Russians for a mark-up price ahead of the October game. Actions like this led to problems at Zilina v Spartak Moscow last Dec, and with the importance, potential away turn-out etc in October, I’m worried we could be in for another tense night off the pitch. Let’s hope not but, well, to be continued, I guess.

  3.   George Mon 07 Sep 2011 at 3:32 pm

    I actual cannot agree Armenia are a good side, perhaps they were against Slovakia . I think you must be going native and be staved of proper football up there …. the last Slovak Corgon league game I saw, was like watch Hackney marshes Sunday game, comic goals, laughable defending and no one could string more than three passes together.

    I think some fool themselves this Slovak side is a good team , but remember even a sad England team beat them before the last World Cup 5-0 . At the Cup , they had one draw against NZ …a loss to a very ordinary South American side …and one stunning win …but that win was a bit like Crewe beating Man U on one FA Cup day, when everything went right for them and all went wrong for their opponents ….As with Man U …or in case Italy 9 times out of 10 Italy would win . I just remember them getting to the WC , by the skin of their teeth and by an amazing sliced own goal win in snow covered Poland, having lost so poorly at home to the other Slovakia :-) )

    As for the tickets sale against Russia ..well this is Slovak FA, the United States of Slota and big money can be made, so what do you expect ….????

  4.   John Wilcoxon 07 Sep 2011 at 3:59 pm

    Glad you enjoyed the match, James, despite the drubbing.

  5.   Fat Eckon 09 Sep 2011 at 9:51 pm

    Thanks for the report, James – and posting the You Tube clip which allowed some of us locked in the land of BSkyB to see goals from a game which didn’t involve “countries we’ve heard of”, as you can just imagine the phrase at their production team meetings :-)

    In European qualifying sections for Euro championships and World Cups there’s a definite widening of the gap between the established World Cup-winning nations and the rest. Seems to have become more pronounced since the breakup of the Soviet Union, yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia (and, of course, since San Marino won independence from Italy and Andorra from Spain :-) ). I remember Slovakia rattling in 5 in Cardiff a few years back and we saw them grabbing a solid draw in Dublin last weekend, but there they are shipping four to Armenia. Germany, Spain, Holland and co are cruising through their groups in more comprehensive fashion than ever (I remember it being a major achievement when France qualified for Euro 92 with a 100%record – not so much now), knocking in the odd cricket score along the way.

    Okay, a big gun will struggle every now and then – France needed that dodgy hand-ball to get past Eire to South Africa and England have wobbled a tad this time while still winning their group – but there’s a line being drawn under the major forces – lets’ call it the “play-off line” – after which anyone seems able to defeat anyone else. It’s perhaps inevitable as the proliferation of smaller nations means more will emerge at the same level of ability (just as the one nation to get bigger post Cold-War – good old Deutschland – is more consistent than ever) but it’s led to a de factotwo-tier qualifying system:

    On one hand it’s less exciting because no-one is going to stop the large nations steam-rollering their way to finals. But, on the other, it gives the lie to the claim that some countries are too useless to be allowed into UEFA’s draws. San Marino may ship 11 in Holland but they’ve given major headaches to endless lists of countries who’ve qualified for plenty of finals tournaments throughout the decades. Yes, I mean Scotland :-(

    What Estonia did to Northern Ireland on Tuesday is an extension of Scotland struggling for a point in Kaunas then a 1-0 win at home to Lithuania in the same campaign. Scotland now need Lithuania to win at home to the Czech Republic – this prospect automatically draws a mocking laugh from most British casual observers of the international game,until we realise Lithuania have already beaten the Czechs in Olomouc. And yet Lithuania lost one and drew the other of their games with Liechtenstein, who in turn only lost in Glasgow after a home goal 7 minutes into injury time.

    What this says to me is that if any “lesser” UEFA nation can find the trick of making their international XI take every game 100% seriously and never underestimate and opponent, a play-off spot is almost guaranteed these days. The trouble is, as Scotland’s campaign and Hamsik’s post-match comments on Tuesday demonstrate, no-one wants to admit we’re all much of a muchness.

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