Oct 08 2011

No miracle this time; Slovakia 0-1 Russia

Published by at 1:54 pm under International and tagged: ,

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

19 Responses to “No miracle this time; Slovakia 0-1 Russia”

  1.   StaryJazvecon 08 Oct 2011 at 7:19 pm

    Right, just about recovering from my hangover, so I’m radgy and ready to rant about that match. Then I’ll read what your wrote. Poverty of ambition. I think back to the bad old days when Slovakia were real minnows, didnt have the players, and used to get hammered by everyone. At least they used to score then. I think back to all that keystone cop defending in big games, O I thought you were marking him, etc. Weiss sorted all that out, now they’re competent, drilled, organised at the back, most of the time. But what happened to the flair, the attacking verve. How many decent moves did they construct in that game against a very average Russian side who will do nothing at Euro 2012. Pitiful, abject, dismal and absoutely no fun to watch. Could it possibly have been a Weiss side that ripped Celtic to bits playing scintillating attacking open football. Why throw VMJ and Sebo on at that very death, you have to score two, for f*cks sake, and now there’s no time. Weiss has just gone into some kind of mega-defensive shell, really seems to have lost the plot, I wld sack him, but it wouldnt surprise me if pulls a moody and resigns.

  2.   VIshalon 08 Oct 2011 at 7:22 pm

    Big disappointment, especially considering how (relatively) well they started out their campaign, including the away win in Russia…….it’s clear from watching Hamsik at Napoli that he gets a greater kick out of club football

    I do hope Armenia get one over on Ireland, would be great to see them in Poland/Ukraine

    Anyway, roll on 2014. Slovensko Do Toho!!

  3.   StaryJazvecon 08 Oct 2011 at 7:33 pm

    Glad you seem to have extracted more enjoyment from the spectactle than I did thru the beer haze, James, maybe this was a game for the purists. One pt. about the goal, I think the deflection was off Durica, who turned his back when he saw it was a blastie. It always amazes me that these big tuff guys, getting played zillions are not prepared to take one in the face for the team.

  4.   James Baxteron 08 Oct 2011 at 7:57 pm

    ‘Glad you seem to have extracted more enjoyment from the spectactle than I did thru the beer haze…’

    I suspect my low expectations explain that rather than being a purist (which I’m really not!) Just for once, the first time really since Weiss took over, I simply didn’t think they had it in them to do any better than they did.

    Still I take a lot of what you say. There was a point around the hour mark when I thought that with harder pressing and going for it a bit more, they could have had Russia under a bit more pressure. Didn’t happen, though. And there were times when Hamsik was carrying the ball forward but only had Holosko anywhere near him. If only for that reason, I’m not blaming Hamsik too much this time. And Sebo – the only striker on the bench – not coming on till the 85th min was ridiculous.

    The plan seemed to be to keep it at 0-0 and go for it late on but you wonder if they ever actually would have ‘gone for it’ till injury time came round.

    Markiza headlines saying Weiss has had a go at a journalist so we’ll see what that was all about…

  5.   britskibelasion 08 Oct 2011 at 8:46 pm

    via Twitter:

    Enjoyed the blog post, James. Interesting read. Do you think there’s much chance of Michalik involvement v Macedonia?


  6.   James Baxteron 08 Oct 2011 at 9:26 pm

    Jon, Well Martin Skrtel is out as he’s off to see his new baby so I’d say there has to be a chance. Might partly depend on whether Weiss wants to give Durica (the other regular CB) a rest as well. For the little it’s worth, I’d give Lubo the chance. Do you follow Carlisle? How do they like him there?

    VIshal, meant to say this before but I too hope Armenia beat Ireland. Nothing at all against the Irish but I liked the way Armenia played in Za last month and can’t believe people are still saying Slovakia should have beaten/deserved to beat them. It was 0-4 for God’s sake. You don’t ‘deserve to win’ when you lose by that margin.

  7.   StaryJazvecon 08 Oct 2011 at 10:16 pm

    The news doesnt seem to have got out about Armenia yet, does it, they were streets better than Slovakia playing in Slovakia. 5.9 seems real generous for the Armenian win, think I might have a little dabble in this match, they def have the players to beat Ireland.

  8.   StaryJazvecon 08 Oct 2011 at 11:02 pm

    Another opinion. In summary: Weiss has his fave players who play whether or not they are playing at their club, whether or not they are in form.


  9.   StaryJazvecon 08 Oct 2011 at 11:03 pm

    Sebo-gol vid, doing what Weiss wont let him do for the repre:


  10.   James Baxteron 09 Oct 2011 at 9:32 am

    Interesting from Mr Marec but does he really justify the ‘favourites’ accusation? It’s an allegation we keep hearing but I’m not sure more substance is provided here than on previous occasions.

    The point about Bakos (and, though he’s a defender, I would add Cisovsky) is interesting. My feeling was Weiss was right not to pick them for the Russia game but that, when he was asked for his reasons, he gave absolutely the wrong ones. He said sth like ‘beating a team of 17 year-old Armenians is no proof that you’re better than the players in my squad’. Presumably, he was referring to Plzen’s win in the first round of CL qualifying – it was an insulting under-estimate of what these players have achieved, even if you only count this season. When he does turn to them, as he must at some point, he’ll have a bit of bridge-building to do. What he should have said was that these players are facing a demanding programme with their clubs and it’s not right to bring them in right at the end of a qualification campaign and expect them to turn things round.

    I personally don’t think Weiss should go, at least not yet. But his increasing tendency to alienate people he needs on his side is one he really needs to curb.

  11.   George Mon 09 Oct 2011 at 1:55 pm

    I have to admit I did not see this game and watched the England game . I saw the highlights and please correct me if I am wrong but Slovakia’s only chances came from a few long shots, dealt with by the Russian keeper with ease . Russia where more proactive and missed two wide open goal chances, even if their winner was a huge slice of luck .

    The problem is , Weiss should now go now, but who better or can you replace him with ? …I feel he is stuck in total rut and has little idea how to correct this issue at this time and perhaps needs a break from this selfish , two dimensional , stupid , dense minded group of Slovak players. The second problem is whoever comes in to the National side has to deal with this group of pals and break up this pampered, temperamental group of players , that are actually quite ordinary in ability, but many believe they are all so talented . ( I refer to Hansik, Skirtel and Sebo ) .

    Weiss tends to treat them like his kids (or sons ) : All this hugging and kissing during the game and emotional stuff after it . What is the next guy going to do ?

  12.   James Baxteron 09 Oct 2011 at 3:00 pm

    ‘Weiss tends to treat them like his kids (or sons ) : All this hugging and kissing during the game and emotional stuff after it .’

    There’s a degree of that, yes. Protective of those inside the squad, rather dismissive of those (like Svento, Bakos etc) outside. As for ‘what is the next guy going to do?’ well, even after this campaign, I still can’t think of many Slovak ‘next guys’ who could get close Weiss in terms of getting a limited squad to play above themselves. Part of Weiss’s problem, in fairness to him, is the expectation he alone has created by qualifying for the WC. There’s Griga at Senica, I suppose, but his style of football is at least as turgid as Weiss’s.

    Anyway, yesterday Weiss tried to humiliate a journalist who asked him if he’s considering quitting by saying ‘I’ve got a contract for 2 more years so you’ll have to suffer me for at least that long’.

    And talking of ‘ordinary players’ who ‘believe they’re all so talented’, you watched the England game. What was that like?

  13.   James Baxteron 10 Oct 2011 at 7:28 am

    Weiss says Salata and Michalik will play in central defence in Macedonia.

  14.   George Mon 10 Oct 2011 at 8:24 am

    ” And talking of ‘ordinary players’ who ‘believe they’re all so talented’, you watched the England game. What was that like?”

    England Game : What was it like ? A normal disappointing performance of course , but then we are talking here about the England football team , who can always grab a defeat, from the jaws of victory .

    Weiss : mmmm not the best thing to do , ie , humiliate the press, as they then tend to start finding you in bed with your young PA, or wife’s sister .

  15.   Jon Colmanon 10 Oct 2011 at 10:37 am

    James – Michalik is a very popular player at Carlisle, something of a cult favourite, and is one of the manager’s key picks. The team haven’t won without him this season – he’s missed five games, of which Carlisle have drawn two and lost three – and supporters will be hoping he returns unscathed from his duties v Macedonia.

    It’s notable, he says, that he’s the only third-tier player to be involved in the international squad. His move to Carlisle certainly seems to have improved his standing.


  16.   Alfonseon 10 Oct 2011 at 12:13 pm

    Big disappointment, i did not expect a victory but at least a good game without resignation.
    Thinking about everyday football in the Corgon Liga it is allow to search responsables of this misere….of course players and tactics and coaches are mentioned first then any other person.
    But in my eyes there is a big responsable who is never mentioned. THE SLOVAKIAN REFEREES-
    I have never seen in my life matches with so many fouls and with so indiferent referees as in the Corgon Liga; with this kind of football it is imposible to create or to try to play an offensive game; defenders and strikers are most worry about the next foul and mostly they lead a personal fight all against all inside the field. There are some teams who present 6 or 7 injuried players week after week. Games with more then 80 fouls in a game…just ridiculous.
    As long as the Slovakian Referees will keep this pasive and prejudicial profesional attitude the results will be the same.
    Second class football and second class results, whoever the adversary´s name: Russia or Armenia.

  17.   James Baxteron 10 Oct 2011 at 4:09 pm

    Jon, Enjoyed that link, much appreciated. Perhaps shows that playing regularly – and well – for a League One side beats bench-warming/reserve football at a bigger club. Taking up what Alfonse says, it may also beat playing in the Slovak domestic league!

    Hope the big man does well tomorrow night. He’d better be switched on all the time because his CB partner Kornel Salata, though a fine player, and with a bit of WC experience behind him, is prone to occasional dreaminess.

  18.   Sloop John Bon 16 Oct 2011 at 7:00 pm

    Hello fellas

    Long time reader of the blog, great stuff – keep up the good work.

    Regarding the stadium issues, whats happening with the new proposed stadium in Bratislava?

  19.   James Baxteron 17 Oct 2011 at 9:59 pm

    We wish we knew! All getting drowned in political in-fighting, wrangles over land, money etc etc. I’d be surprised if there’s even a hole in the ground by this time next year.

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