Archive for October, 2011

Oct 29 2011

Racism rearing it’s ugly ahead again.

Published by under Domestic,European

As is widely known in football blogging circles, the European Football Weekends crew started their recent ‘Oktoberfest’ with a trip to Bratislava, to watch the Slovan v PSG game.  Unfortunately, the guys were standing in the middle of the Slovan Ultras when they experienced an example of the racism which is sadly still present in the game in Slovakia.

I am delighted that James Baxter has written this article, confronting the issue from inside Slovakia:

I was not at the Slovan Bratislava v Paris St Germain Europa League game on October 20th but there appears to be little doubt that the visitors’ Siaka Tiéné was subjected to racist abuse as he made his way from the field following his 80th minute sending-off. What is in even less doubt is that UEFA’s official report of the match made no mention of the incident. Nor did accounts in the Slovak media. Once again, it seems, racism has occurred at a football match in Slovakia and no’one seems too bothered.

Several factors make this all the more difficult to understand. Firstly, there are now a number of black players in the domestic league, including Koro-Kone and Diallo at Trnava, Bello, Ceesay and Mabouka at Žilina and Guédé and Bagayoko at Slovan. I can’t help but ask myself what went through the minds of the latter two when they heard Tiéné being abused. Also, we get all the UEFA-sponsored campaigns and slogans here ; ‘kick racism out of football’, ‘show racism a red card’ and the rest of them. There was another launched last weekend, less than 48 hours after the Slovan match. Isn’t all this just a tiny bit meaningless when real incidents of racism are not even reported, still less confronted?

Several groups of people need to start taking a bit more responsibility. UEFA, naturally, are first among them. It is possible that they will eventually take some action in relation to the Slovan incidents but a fine and a quiet, friendly ‘try not to let it happen again’ is about as much as I would expect. Meanwhile, I struggle to understand the UEFA policy of pretending that incidents didn’t occur until finally passing judgement upon them. When people can get accounts of games from all sorts of sources, is there really any point in maintaining a state of denial?

The Slovak football authorities don’t emerge without blemish either. The last time (though I seriously wonder now if it really was the last time) a racist incident occurred – at Žilina last July, when home fans aimed monkey chants at Bagayoko following a game with Slovan – the SFZ did precisely nothing. Nor, it almost goes without saying, did Žilina, which brings us to the question of the clubs themselves. Too often, Slovak clubs are more likely to try to appease fans who behave unacceptably than take action against them. L´ubomír Krajčík, the Žilina fan who caused the abandonment of last April’s clash with Slovan was in the newspaper yesterday revealing that he now sits higher up in the stand than he did before. He should not be allowed to attend matches at all. As for Slovan, I’d say a concerted effort by their powers-that-be to root out the people who abused Tiéné is about as likely as the team lifting the Europa League trophy next May.

The players could perhaps help a bit more. I don’t know if the Slovan team gave their usual bow to their fans after the PSG game but I’d like to think they didn’t, as this would have been the only realistic way to immediately make clear that they found the racist chanting unacceptable. Guédé and Filip Šebo had been involved in some interesting-sounding anti-racism activities just the week before ; a display of disapproval of abuse where it had actually happened would have been a case of backing up the ideals of that campaign with a brave, principled stance.

The Slovak media are fairly useless where this issue is concerned as well and, like UEFA, failed to report the incidents involving Tiéné. Of course, when half the Slovak media is somehow connected to people who also have interests in Slovan, that is hardly a surprise. But  the press do at least show balance in their neglect of the problem ; the abuse Bagayoko was subjected to in Žilina last year was not reported either. It all makes you wonder if other incidences over the years have been similarly ignored.

When I last wrote about racism in Slovak football, last December, a lot of the emphasis was on the point that a lot of progress has been made over the last 10-15 years. I still believe that is true and there is plenty of evidence to back up such a claim, which I will not go into now.  Taking the latest incident specifically, I would actually be surprised if the perpetrators are among the 2,000 or so Slovan fans who turn up for domestic fixtures. Considering that the PSG game drew a crowd of 7,000+, mathematics alone suggests they may well not be. Also, it is difficult to imagine Guédé and Bagayoko wanting to stay long at a club where monkey noises were a regular feature of the matchday experience and it is certainly my impression that these players are liked and respected by the vast majority of Slovan fans. The same at Žilina where Ceesay in particular is something of a cult figure.

Still, the real point of all this is to say that racism cannot be tackled properly as a phenomenon when individual incidences of it are swept under the carpet. You could perhaps compare the current situation with an alcoholic who has been mostly sober for the last few years but has just had a relapse. It is no use only telling himself that he has made a lot of progress, he has to admit too that he still has some way to go. Racism in Slovak football is not as widespread or reflexive as it once was but we must all want more progress to be made. That is why what happened at the PSG game should have been properly reported and acted upon by those in a position to do so.

James Baxter

9 responses so far

Oct 25 2011

EFW Oktoberfest 2011

Published by under Czech Republic

In what is becoming an annual celebration of football, travel, drinking and good banter, the 3rd annual European Football Weekends Oktoberfest took place last weekend based in the Czech Republic.

Slovan Bratislava hosting Paris St Germain tagged an extra match and an extra city onto the itinerary for the guys.  We’ve discussed the match on the previous article, so for those wanting to read about the EFW-ers (mixed) experience at Pasienky, here are the links:

http://theballisround.co.uk/2011/10/24/bailing-out-the-eurozone-oktoberfest-day-one/

After a heavy night on the Pilsner Urquell (no Zlaty Bazant I’m afraid), EFW were, impressively, present and correct, almost to a man, on the 08:09 departure for Prague.  We were on the 10:09, via Breclav.  Which was subject to a 10 minute delay.  Would they hold the connection or would we be searching the Moravian-Silesian Fixture list for a MSK Břeclav home match?  They held the connection.

On arrival in Prague, the first impression (obviously) was of the train station.  Impressively renovated since my last visit, this was a station who’s concourse rivalled any in Europe.  Sephora perfume shops where Bratislava has the odd kiosk.  Then again, probably a similar comparison can be made between Eden Stadium and Pasienky.  We’re a hell of a long way behind still.

Straight onto the metro, and out at the Botel Florentina. Right in the centre of Prague.  Quite ironic, I found, to have a hotel with such a beautiful setting, given the nature of our weekend.  After a quick meet-and-greet, it was all-aboard the EFW Bingo Bus to Liberec.  After a painfully slow ride out of town, before we knew it we had stocked up on beer and were rolling North.

EFW Team Bus.

Liberec was much nicer than expected.  A city the locals seem to love.  Rather like Brno, it must be said.  I rarely get that impression in Slovakia, that the locals really love their city.

Here is Andy Hudson’s Liberec write-up:

http://europeanfootballweekends.blogspot.com/2011/10/slovan-liberec-v-fc-banik-ostrava.html

At Liberec, I was especially amused by the ‘Death Boys Slovan’ hoodies, and the ‘Alcohol Football’ emblem all over the ultras section.  I found it quite a friendly place to be honest, although Petrzalka fans posing for photos are obviously not welcome around here.  Banik Ostrava brought  a few fans along, obviously not happy with the Friday kick-off and there was a decent atmosphere for a very entertaining match.  3-2 to Liberec with a last minute winner.

Petrzalka? Out!

Two Slovans in two nights?  Tick!  EFW were happy, and the trip home, along with plenty of beers, souvenirs and a good-old sing-song was a lot of fun.  The rest of the night in Prague was somewhat hazy, it must be said.

We’d only got the one night in town, so there was no choice but to make the effort for a 09:30 rise for the Saturday morning fixture.  It was hard work, but we got out to Praha 9 in a taxi.  Only to find most of the Oktoberfest contingent had made it by public transport.  Hats. Off.

Saturday morning was what I had been looking forward to most.  Sparta Praha B v Zbrojovka Brno.  Brno fans regularly show up to support Slovan Bratislava, so it was the least I could do to return the favour.  Only the Brno fans were boycotting.  A ridiculously over-the-top police presence was ready for them, but soon rolled away.  Maybe it wasn’t so over-the-top after what happened at Znojmo a couple of weeks ago.

Sparta B v Brno

This was a great match, one I wrote up for the EFW site:

http://europeanfootballweekends.blogspot.com/2011/10/sparta-praha-b-v-zbrojovka-brno.html

From one remote suburb to another; on the other side of town.  Via bus, metro, bus, an Armenian restaurant for some borsch and a bloody long walk we arrived.  At a field.  Somewhere in Prague, for the 15:00 kick-off.  No-one really knew who was playing, we understand it was Division 9, some people weren’t impressed and left.  But it was fun.  A kick-around while the players took their half-time break probably made it, that, the 18-stone centre forward and the ref with sunglasses.  Those who went to town instead probably made a good call, but this was the end of the fun for me.  As for the Oktoberfest, that was still rolling onto Zizkov, Dukla and Admira, not to mention Plzen.  Hardcore dedication which certainly brings it’s rewards!

I made it back for the 18:13 to Bratislava where we enjoyed a beer from a “Verim Plzen” can.  Hard to believe they’ll be playing Barcelona in Prague next week.  After plotting our own Eastern Slovakian Football Weekend and some discussion of internet trolls, we were through Brno, and soon back in Bratislava.  Where we managed not to fall down some dark crumbling steps coming out of the station.

There are many things about the Oktoberfest that appeal to me, and that sums up what makes it so special.  EFW successfully bring together people of all backgrounds who share a basic common ground of travel, football and beer, but it gets so much more specific than that.  Some are genuine groundhoppers, some are writers, bloggers, photographers, others just love their football.  Barnet, Sheffield United, Legia Warsaw, Tranmere Rovers, Royal Antwerp, FC Petrzalka, it doesn’t matter, everyone comes together and has a damn good time.

..it may only be a field, but you can still get a beer!

Many thanks to Danny, Stoffers and Stu for their organisation.  I think I can speak for the whole Bratislava contingent when I say we really enjoyed our taste of the Oktoberfest.

An unexpected end to my footballing weekend, as part of the family Sunday in Okoc, an hour East of Bratislava, the men asked me if I wanted to go to the football.  Oh, go on then, if you insist.  ”It’s only 5th Division, they warned”, after the previous day, it couldn’t be any worse, but that’s the beauty of it!  Okoc / Sokolec (Ekezs) are bottom of Division 5 West South in Slovakia.  Bottom of the bottom of the pyramid.  Which is why they didn’t get relegated after finishing bottom last season.  They lost 0-2 to second bottom Vlcany and are now, already 5 points adrift.  Vlcany’s second goal, it must be said, was an absolute screamer from 25 yards into the top corner.

Slovak Div 5 to finish off the weekend? Go on then!

I really enjoy village football in Slovakia.  Everyone knows everyone, the bar is always open and you can tell it’s the highlight of the week.  Around 200 people there, I’d say, which compared to some recent Corgon Liga attendances, isn’t half bad.  If any EFW groundhoppers ever make it here, I’ll be very impressed indeed!

5 responses so far

Oct 22 2011

Corgon Liga Preview

Published by under Domestic

We have reached Round 13 of the current Corgoň Liga season. Whether the league has really taken shape yet is not certain, though I would say that the top four teams are those you would have expected before the campaign began. The same probably goes for the bottom three sides, all of whom struggled for much of last season too. The teams in mid-table tend to be wildly inconsistent, strong at home but hopeless away, or generally solid but uninspiring. The coming weekend may see one or two interesting developments so let’s take a look at the fixtures.

Ružomberok v Trenčín is one of two early kick-offs on Saturday. ‘Ruža’ have been very much on the up since appointing Czech coach Aleš Křeček, winning three successive games with an 8-0 goal difference. Trenčín have had a decent start to the season and, in the words of Slovan trainer Vladimír Weiss, were ‘fantastic’ in the first half of last week’s 2-2 draw with the visiting Bratislava side. However, their results away from their Na Sihoti home, with its plastic pitch, have been poor so far and I cannot see them taking any points here.

The second pair of 1430 starters are Banská Bystrica and DAC Dunajská Streda. As they did for much of last season, Bystrica have disappointed over the first three months of this campaign. They earned a surprise win in the first leg of their cup quarter-final with Trnava this week, however, and should be keen to follow up with a good home performance against one of the league’s stragglers. But the fact that two of DAC’s three victories have come against Slovan and Žilina suggest that, on those occasions when they do get it right, they are dangerous opponents. They haven’t drawn a game yet this season so, purely on the basis that there’s a first time for everything, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a share of the points on Saturday.

Vion Zlaté Moravce and Nitra, whose game starts at 1730 on Saturday, are both sides I would put in the ‘solid but uninspiring’ category. Vion did suffer a 4-0 hammering at Ružomberok in their last outing but Juraj Jarábek, their level-headed coach, didn’t appear unduly concerned afterwards and I would expect his players to quickly put the result behind them. Nitra are currently finding it difficult to win games, though their away record remains quite sound. I would expect this to be a close contest, with Vion prevailing by a single goal.

The final three games involve the top four and two of the bottom three. Leaders Trnava are at home to third-from-bottom Košice and should be confident of a comfortable win, though they may be mindful of two surprising home losses – to Bystrica in the cup in midweek and to Ružomberok, in Křeček’s first match in charge of the latter, four weeks ago. They might need to be patient on Saturday, in which case the experience of the likes of Miroslav Karhan could come in handy, but I don’t see Trnava slipping up in this game.

Žilina and Prešov meet again on Saturday, just four days after contesting the first leg of their cup quarter-final. Žilina won 2-1 on Tuesday but the visitors, as on their league visits to this venue last season, gave a performance which suggested they should not be at the bottom of the league. After going ahead with a brilliant early goal from Viliam Macko, they looked assured until conceding an equaliser from a needlessly conceded penalty on the hour. Jean Deza, Žilina’s young Peruvian winger, then scored a cracker of his own to ensure Žilina go into the second leg with a lead. It wasn’t the first time since his arrival that Deza has made a match-winning contribution and if he plays any part in Saturday’s game, Prešov will certainly be on the look out for him. It’s now time for a more experienced home player to step up and justify Žilina’s ‘clear favourites’ billing.

The game of the round is certainly Sunday’s Senica v Slovan fixture. Second-placed Senica have put an indifferent start to the season firmly behind them and are on an excellent run. They have the best defence in the league and the skillful Juraj Piroška seems to be in good form ; he scored his first international goal for Slovakia in Macedonia before following up with the winner for his club at Prešov last week. Slovan have found balancing domestic and European demands more difficult than most observers expected and can actually count themselves rather lucky that they are still as high as fourth in the league. Still, I sense both that they are emerging from their poor run of league form and that they may rise to Senica’s challenge. I’m going for a draw in this game ; unlike in the case of Bystrica-DAC, that’s a prediction based on some semblance of rationality rather than on pure feeling.

Predictions

Ružomberok 2 Trenčín 0
Banská Bystrica 2 Dunajská Streda 2
Zlaté Moravce 1 Nitra 0
Trnava 2 Košice 0
Žilina 2 Prešov 1 (again)
Senica 1 Slovan 1

James Baxter

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Oct 20 2011

Slovan v PSG Preview

Published by under European

On the face of it, SK Slovan Bratislava enter this match with the French table-toppers in something of a rut form-wise, both domestically and in Europe.  The only form guide which will give Slovan fans any hope is, sadly, of little relevance to tonight’s match, and that is the record of French teams in the Champions League this week; P3, L3, F0, A6.  The peformances of Lyon, Marseille and Lille make sorry reading for French football fans.

With the exception of the EL Group F defeat at Athletic Bilbao, PSG’s record over the last month has been impressive.  4 consecutive wins and plenty of goals sees them sitting 3 points clear of Montpellier and Lyon at the top of Ligue 1.  This is the kind of situation Slovan’s owners and fans would also expect domestically but, sadly the picture is quite different.  Without making excuses for a squad which has showed a serious lack of cutting edge recently, especially against the Corgon Liga’s lesser teams, the strain of competitive European football matches since mid-summer is clear for all to see.

Having said that, given the recent international break, Slovan have only played 2 matches in the 3 weeks since their last European outing, the 0-3 defeat in Salzburg.  Victory away at bottom club Presov was followed by a 2-2 draw at AS Trencin in a match Weiss called ‘the best so far in the league this season’.  I assume he wasn’t referring to Slovan’s defensive performance in the first 20 minutes, which bore more resemblance to amateur football.  However, maybe the rustiness can be attributed to the longer-than-usual break, Slovan did look much more organised in the 2nd half.  I personally hope Weiss did give himself and his squad plenty of time to rest and get away from football for a couple of days, clear their heads a bit.

We have talked at length on this blog about the tactics employed by Vladimir Weiss – how he is capable of producing shocks like Slovakia v Italy in the World Cup, or Roma v Slovan earlier in this competition – yet cannot organise his team to go out and score against Dunajska Streda or Nitra.  Something which stood out to me in the Trencin match, from a tactical point of view, was the first half substitution of club captain Jiri Kladrubsky.  Kladrubsky was Slovak football’s most expensive signing when he arrived from Sparta Prague reserves last summer, and did show great promise early in the season.  Since Weiss took over from Karol Jarolim, Kladrubsky’s form has nose-dived, to such an extent he has become a fringe player.  Being substituted in the first half at Trencin was received with an angry kick of the dug-out and you feared the worse for this particular captain-coach relationship.  Yet, as a fan I was happy to see a defensive midfielder being replaced by an attacker (Milos Lacny) when Slovan were 0-2 down after 20 minutes.  It sounds so obvious, but often doesn’t appear remotely obvious to Weiss when Slovan (or Slovakia) find themselves in a situation where they need to adjust – use Plan B – i.e. play more attacking football – Sebo coming on after 86 minutes against Russia just one recent example.

Yesterday Weiss and Kladrubsky appeared in front of the media, all smiles and looking very relaxed.  Quite a contrast to Kladrubsky’s reaction last Saturday and also to some of Weiss’ other recent press-conferences where headlines have been made for all the wrong reasons.  They’re saying the right things this time, has some collective soul-searching been done?

Weiss & Kladrubsky in the PSG press conference

In this evening’s match, Weiss can play cautious again, and try to sneak something against clearly superior opposition, but what are the chances of that working, and how will the fans feel if we walk out having seen a 0-5 defeat with Slovan not even giving it a real go?  A draw would be a remarkable achievement, and yield the first point in European group stages for Slovan, but I think all the fans want to see is the team given their all and at least trying to score.

The line-up published in ‘Dennik Sport’ this morning finally resembles the one I would select – Halenar and Sebo together up front, with Milikovic, Guede and Zofcak behind.  In defense, I will be deeply concerned if Dosoudil plays ahead of Marian Had, given his performance at Trencin, and I also fail to see why goalkeeper Lukas Hrosso has walked into the starting team ahead of Matos Putnocky who played a huge role in getting Slovan this far.  These are fine details though, and there is no guarantee that this is the final selection, I do think it would be a really smart move from Weiss to select both Halenar and Sebo.

Filip Sebo will be greeted by PSG coach Antoine Kombouare who was his manager during his time in France at Valenciennes, and once again has an opportunity to show what he can do with the eyes of Europe on him.  The Slovan squad has potential, proven by the result in Rome, yet there are so many factors that must align for them to have any chance tonight.   Earlier in the week, I was feeling deeply pessimistic.  Maybe it is just the match-day feeling, but once again I have some faint (probably false) glimmer of hope in my stomach, especially given the VIPs visiting Bratislava tonight;

How will the millionaires of  PSG enjoy playing at Pasienky on cold, damp night?  For those who don’t know Pasienky, it is almost undoubtedly the worst venue hosting any European football this week.  Let’s see if Javier Pastore performs better than the last player with such a price-tag we saw at Pasienky; Marek Hamsik.

Off-the-field, and talking of VIPs, the attendance will be boosted by the presence of at least 15 travelling fans, (and they won’t be supporting PSG).  The European Football Weekends Oktoberfest roadshow is rolling into town.  Watch this space, for links to photos, reports and all the news from a weekend-long beer and football bonanza.

My prediction:   Slovan 1-3 PSG

16 responses so far

Oct 17 2011

Myjava and Petrzalka heading in opposite directions?

Published by under Domestic

I had planned to head to Trencin on my first weekend back in Slovakia for over a month.  Trencin v Slovan was a very appealing away trip.  Ralph Davies and Miticos Del Balompie were already booked on having planned a double header with Slovacko v Plzen the night before.  The stuff ‘beer-loving central-European groundhoppers’ dreams are made of.  Especially because Trencin’s ‘Stadion na Sihoti’ sits right under one of Slovakia’s most dramatic castles in a football-setting which would rival many in Europe.  Anyway, for personal reasons I had to abandon the 8-hour-Trencin-beerathon this time, and decided to head to Petrzalka on Sunday morning instead.

Most of us know the story of Petrzalka, fallen from the highest point in Slovak football over just a few years and now left to sweat it out in Division 2 in a borrowed ground with a hotel which at least offers the players free board, as they haven’t been paid in over 6 months.  One tradition they have kept is the 10:30 Sunday kick-offs and on a beautiful Autumn morning like this, what better way to start the day.  Especially in the ‘black-and-white derby’ against the league’s top-dogs, Spartak Myjava.  Slovakia’s Spartak #2 are a team from a modest town in the North West of the country, promoted several times over the last few seasons and with the financial backing to go all the way to the top.

Spartak have their own shiny bus which was parked up next to another supporter’s coach in the Rapid Hotel car-park.  50 or so Myjava fans were making themselves feel at home in the Petrzalka bar pre-match.  Clad in black-and-white self-designed memorabilia (hoodies), they appear almost identical to Petrzalka’s ‘Engerau’ crowd, and the two groups did seem to strike a good rapport this morning.  Myjava’s crowd, armed with drums, flags and [very annoying] air-raid sirens, set up camp at the end of the main stand, the Engerau lot, fairly subdued today, in the opposite corner on the steps under the modern apartment buildings in this quiet part of Bratislava.

Myjava's early penalty. 0-1, no way back.

An attendance of 810 beat Kosice and Presov from the previous day’s Corgon Liga matches and Myjava certainly provided value for money, although Petrzalka’s increasingly hard-suffering loyals may disagree.  0-1 from a penalty early on, Petrzalka did create a couple of chances to get back in the match, but 0-2 at half-time and there was never a realistic way back for the home team.  In the 2nd half, Myjava turned on the style and the fourth goal had myself and Stary Jazvec purring our appreciation, a superbly taken goal from Peter Sladek, after 3 or 4 exquisite single-touches from various Myjava attackers.  You don’t see those kind of goals often around here.  All I could think was ‘if only Slovan could produce something half as good as that’ when the eyes of Europe are on them on Thursday.  Final score Petrzalka 0-5 Myjava; I do hope that the scoreline  doesn’t turn out to be the main comparison with next Thursday night ..

This was a fully accomplished away performance from Myjava.  Petrzalka have been dropping down the table recently, but their home form has been decent and I had them down as mid-table at worst this season.  This morning they were simply outclassed by Myjava.  With Zemplin Mihalovce losing to Ruzomberok B, suddenly a 4-point gap has opened at the top for Myjava, who face Zemplin in an early ‘title-decider’ next weekend.  For Petrzalka, the table suddenly looks very different, only Bodva Moldava below them in a situation which makes sorry reading for those fans who remember their all-too-recent European glory-days in Bratislava.  Perhaps pragmatism will step in though, and with so many distant away trips in this Division, maybe a season or two in Div 3 West would give the club the perk it needs to get back on track.  It will certainly make it easier for those die-hards who follow the ‘Zalka away .. not mentioning any names ;-)

Very enjoyable morning, great to see away fans out for such an early kick-off, and perhaps the spirit of Division 2 has been summed up nicely by this gesture, from Myjava showing their appreciation for Petrzalka’s hospitality:

Myjava Slivovice

 

Good luck to both clubs, Myjava are a team very much on the up, and Petrzalka sadly rather the opposite.  Still, I for one will continue to enjoy the occasional Sunday morning watching football in more than friendly surroundings.

4 responses so far

Oct 10 2011

A Tribute to Miroslav Karhan

Published by under Domestic,International

The SFZ made one of their habitual balls-ups in their preparations for Slovakia’s Euro 2012 qualifier with Russia on Friday night. They were late booking the team into the hotel it normally uses for games in Žilina – somewhere on the road to Terchová, I gather – and, with the Russians having already secured the Holiday Inn close to the ground, were forced to book the Dubná Skala hotel in the city-centre.

This led to a short but unexpected encounter for me on the Thursday evening. I was leaving the Mirage shopping-centre (not a place I often frequent, let me say) when I almost bumped into a man who was on his way in. If I’d registered him without knowing who he was, I might have had him down as a super-fit middle-aged type, perhaps an army fitness instructor who spends his holidays climbing 8,000-metre peaks. The logo on his blue training-top might have given him away as a footballer, though, and he was in fact Slovakia’s most capped player, Miroslav Karhan.

24 hours or so later, Karhan was at the centre of the best moment of Friday evening. Just before the Russia game kicked-off, he was presented with a special UEFA award for players who have represented their country 100 times or more. The Slovak fans, naturally, responded with warm applause. So, to their great credit, did a healthy proportion of the visiting contingent. You could, I think, know your European and international football pretty well without knowing much about Karhan but you would have to be pretty mean-spirited to suggest he didn’t deserve this bit of recognition.

The game itself saw Karhan give his trademark performance. Strong, reliable, strikingly mobile for a 35 year-old and always constructive with the ball, he did everything in his own power to give his side a chance of the unlikely victory that would have kept qualification hopes alive. Sadly, it wasn’t quite enough and, being the one defensive midfielder left on the pitch, he was the obvious candidate to be withdrawn when Vladimír Weiss belatedly threw striker Filip Šebo into the mix towards the end of the contest.

Afterwards, showing a greater sense of reality than some of his team-mates, Karhan acknowledged that Russia had been the better side and that Slovakia had never really looked like winning the game. He also took the opportunity to announce his own retirement from international football, admitting in the process that he would have quit after last year’s World Cup if injury hadn’t prevented him from going to South Africa.

It is here that the real sadness of Karhan’s representative career lies. He was crucial to qualifying for the 2010 tournament, doing at least as much as any player to drag the side to one of its finest achievements, and fitness had never been much of an issue for him before. Although he tried to downplay the personal disappointment his injury caused, it was obvious that it had made him all the keener to participate in one tournament finals before he retired, hence the decision to play in the current qualification campaign. And overall, you would struggle to dispute the assertion that he has again been one of Slovakia’s better performers. He was a clear man-of-the-match in the battling draw at home to Ireland last October, saved the side from total embarrassment by being the only player with the necessary technique and composure to find the back of Andorra’s net at Pasienky in June, and he was pivotal to his team’s dominance of central midfield in the 0-0 draw in Dublin last month. There are several people who should be looking hard at themselves following Slovakia’s failings in Group B but Miroslav Karhan is not one of them.

Karhan still has some football left in him of course. His facial features might be those of a middle-aged man but he still runs around like someone in his mid-twenties, as my local team Žilina found to their cost when losing at home to his current side, Spartak Trnava, in August. I can’t say that I hope Trnava win the Corgoň Liga this season but I‘ll be happy for Karhan if they do, the more so because they are also the club he started his professional career with. The Slovakia national team will have to manage without him now, but Trnava and the domestic league are lucky to have him and I hope he’ll be around to be appreciated for a while longer yet.

Finally some details on Karhan’s Slovakia career ; he made 107 international appearances between his debut in1995 and last Friday, scoring 14 goals. He has always been a versatile performer, able to play in several positions, including centre-back and his more favoured holding-midfield role. He was named Slovak Footballer of the Year in 2002 and was presented with a special award for services to Slovak football at the Player of the Year awards night in March of this year.

James Baxter

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Oct 08 2011

No miracle this time; Slovakia 0-1 Russia

Published by under International

Slovakia’s Euro 2012 qualifying hopes were ended (predictably enough, I suppose, though we continued to hope for some Vladimír Weiss-inspired unpredictability) in Žilina last night, as a disciplined Russia side booked their own place in Poland and Ukraine, courtesy of a 1-0 win.

The night began on a positive note, Miroslav Karhan being presented with a special UEFA award for players who have represented their country 100 times or more. Several of the 4,000+ visiting fans – and more on them later – were generous enough to join in the applause for this magnificent, if unspectacular, player. Karhan, who announced after the game that he plans to retire from international football, deserves a tribute of his own at some stage but one suspects that, like the Slovak fans, he’ll currently be more pre-occupied with reflecting on the 90 minutes against the Russians than on his entire career.

The game was decent enough to watch from inside the ground. When there is a lot at stake, I never mind if there aren’t many chances and this was at least a tactical contest with reasonably regular flashes of good football and some fine individual performances. Slovakia seemed to be playing with a 4-4-1-1 formation, with the wide players, Erik Jendrišek and Miroslav Stoch, playing a little deeper than they normally do and Marek Hamšík given licence to roam freely just behind Filip Hološko. It worked in the sense that Hamšík did occasionally find himself in promising positions but, apart from one brilliant reverse pass which Stoch was just unable to control, he didn’t manage to create any clear-cut chances.

Otherwise, all Slovakia’s best efforts came from distance. Juraj Kucka, Stoch and Hološko (the latter after another good exchange with Hamšík) all tested Viaceslav Malafejev from outside the area – and the goalkeeper proved more than equal to the test each time. The game’s only clear chances were created by Russians. Andrej Arshavin made one for himself in the first half with a fantastic run through the defence, but saw Ján Mucha beat the eventual shot aside. After the break, Roman Shirokov sliced hopelessly wide of a half-empty goal having been set up by Alan Dzagojev. Dzagojev it was who was later credited with the winning goal but his 71st minute effort would have caused Mucha few problems had it not taken a huge deflection off Ján Ďurica. Vladimír Weiss Senior might have smiled bitterly at that, since he’d pointed out in the morning press that Russia’s previous four goals had all resulted from deflections!

Slovakia’s problem in this campaign, as we know, has been that they don’t score goals at all. Immediately Dzagojev’s shot hit the net, we knew, if we didn’t know it already, that the home team’s hopes were over. When you can only score twice in 180 minutes against Andorra (for example) you’re never going to score twice in 20 against a team as well-organised and determined as the Russians. That said, I struggle to understand why Filip Šebo was only sent on in the 85th minute. It’s not that I expected him to turn the game around but he deserved 15 minutes, at the very least, to try to make an impact.

Some Slovak players produced creditable performances. Karhan and Kucka did their midfield jobs well and full-backs Tomáš Hubočan and Peter Pekarík had decent games. The former, possibly included for his experience of the Russian game and the fact that several of his Zenit St Petersburg team-mates were on the opposing side, was very solid, while Pekarík offered a few promising forward runs. Pekarík found himself up against Arshavin on a few occasions and stood up well to him but it was the Arsenal player who provided the evening’s most skillful touches. One pass to Jurij Zhirkov, made from the left-back position and with his back to his own goal, cut out three pressurising Slovaks and was very much in the ‘how the hell did he do that?’ category.

Off the field, the occasion was further evidence that Slovakia do need a bigger stadium. An official away section with just 1,000 places was never going to be enough for all the visiting fans who wanted to be present and thus there were Russians all over the ground. It’s to most people’s credit that this didn’t result in too many problems but there was a brief outbreak of fighting in the corner of the East Stand, which resulted in objects, including a flare (how do these things get into a ground when we’re not allowed a humble umbrella?) being thrown from the segregated visitors’ area. These incidents all died down quite quickly, though. Perhaps one reason the night ended in reasonably friendly spirit is that Russia won. With all the expectation of their followers, it could have turned ugly if they had lost, and then tough questions really would have been asked about Slovakia’s stadium situation.

I’m sure we will soon be asking ourselves the question of what comes next for the Slovak team. After the now meaningless fixture in Macedonia on Tuesday, it will be 11 months until their next round of competitive fixtures. That should be enough time for Weiss to have a good look at some new players, especially, I sincerely hope, one or two who know how to score goals. On the other hand, you have to wonder about the coach himself. He seems to be finding the Slovan Bratislava job a tough assignment so how keen he will be to mastermind another international qualifying campaign remains to be seen. These are all questions for another day, of course, so, for now, let’s just say well done to the Russians. They have probably made harder work of winning this group than they needed to, but they’ve shown their qualities as the campaign has gone on. It will be interesting to see how they get on next summer.

James Baxter

19 responses so far

Oct 07 2011

Site problems

Published by under Uncategorized

Apologies to readers who may have experienced site access problems over the last few days, things seem to be back to normal again now.  A few comments have gone missing from the last post, which is a pity, but at least everything else seems to be in tact!

If you’re looking for a Preview of Russia v Slovakia, head right on over to SFUnion for James Baxter’s latest offering.

We’ll no doubt be back over the weekend to discuss the outcome of tonight’s match.

One response so far