Archive for November, 2011

Nov 30 2011

Focus On: Momodou Ceesay

Published by under Domestic

Momo is Momo

The title is not mine. It is a friend and fellow Žilina regular’s description of possibly the most enigmatic footballer I’ve ever watched on a regular basis, Gambian striker Momodou Ceesay.

I’ve often asked myself over the last 15 months or so how a player can be so talented – can do truly dazzling things with the ball – yet can also be so downright hopeless that you would rather your team was playing with ten men. ‘Momo is Momo’ is, I suspect, as close as I’ll ever really get to answering that question.

Ceesay in action against Marseille last year

Perhaps it’s not actually that great a move for a player to raise fans‘ expectations of him by starring in a high-profile competition immediately after joining a club. But that is what Ceesay did, and it was largely thanks to his goals and displays against Litex Loveč and Sparta Prague that Žilina qualified for last season’s Champions League group stage. The Sparta goals were remarkable efforts too. In the away leg, Ceesay gained possession following defensive confusion and, though surrounded by opponents and with the angle narrow, managed to find a small corner of the net. That was nothing compared to his strike in the home leg, where he turned to meet a cross pulled too far back for his run, flicked the ball up and, with his back to goal, directed it past the ‘keeper with a scissors kick. It would have been a special goal from any sort of player ; from an unco’ordinated-looking figure of 6ft 5ins it verged on the uncanny.

After all that, the one question diverting Žilina fans’ minds from ticket-prices for the opening group game against Chelsea was how John Terry and his colleagues might cope with Ceesay. With hindsight, the expectation had become a little unreasonable. The Londoners, and the rest of Group F, provided a hefty dose of reality as Ceesay became increasingly anonymous through the European campaign, though he did give a brief but entertaining cameo appearance as a substitute in the final fixture, at home to Spartak Moscow.

The big-time Charlie accusation, then, is not one I would aim at Ceesay. In fact, some of his better displays last autumn came in low-profile matches in humble surroundings. He seemed, for example, to take a liking to away ties in the Slovak Cup, scoring at both Vranov nad Topľou and Senec. Nor is it fair to suggest that he’s a fair-weather player – a charge still occasionally levelled at African players in sections of the Slovak media. Indeed, last Saturday’s home league match against Banská Bystrica, played on a cold November evening, saw him produce just about his full-range of skills. He held the ball up decently, he skinned defenders for pace (how often do you see 6ft 5in players do that?) and he was unlucky not to score on three occasions, once with a vicious 30-yard shot, once after a bewildering series of foot shuffles had taken him clear of three defenders in the penalty-area, and finally after running round goalkeeper Tomáš Belic. The ‘keeper did well to save the first two efforts and was rescued by an unlikely goal-line clearance from Juraj Chupáč on the third occasion.

Ceesay skinning a Trencin defender

All this leaves us daring to hope that Ceesay might have further wonders in store next spring, the more so if he is blessed with just a little luck. Before we get too optimistic, though, we should perhaps recall the typically mixed efforts he offered in last season’s second phase. In fairness, the first game, at Prešov in late February, was played in icy conditions. Several players struggled, Ceesay more than any.  Later, he was deployed out of position wide on the right in some games and, though his work-rate couldn’t be faulted, he again looked uncomfortable and proved fairly conclusively that the words ‘good crosser of the ball’ will not be appearing on his CV anytime soon. He was also unfortunate to be sent-off for diving in the controversial Slovan Bratislava game, video evidence later proving that he hadn’t committed an offence. The incident, as well as that Prešov match, pointed to one problem Ceesay has – that for all his skill, he sometimes has problems staying upright. Combined with the fact that he is also prone to the odd ‘real’ dive, this must make him a tricky player to referee. Still, the red card seemed to fire him up for his next outing, a cup semi-final home leg with Zlaté Moravce in which he tortured the visiting defence and scored (to date) his only brace of goals in Žilina colours.

The realists among us (who don’t always include me) have sometimes wondered how it is that Ceesay is playing Slovak league football in the first place, especially given that Žilina acquired him from Belgian side Westerlo. If he was that good, surely another club in a western Europe league would have wanted him. But there is another, more sensitive issue here and it is that Ceesay is a devout Muslim, one who insists on observing the rules of the holy month of Ramadan. This is probably not a matter Slovak clubs have had to pay much attention to before but, in a newspaper interview last autumn, Pavel Hapal, Žilina’s former coach, did have a very respectable stab at balancing respect for a player’s beliefs with worries about how dentrimental a refusal to take in food and water during daylight hours might affect his fitness. This is an issue that could affect bigger clubs of course, but I suspect that Žilina have reached an acceptance in Ceesay’s case that goes something like this ; we respect the player’s right to observe his religion. If his physical condition or on-field focus is sometimes lacking, whether or not because of such observance, it is a price worth paying in this case because, when he is in top form, he is a match-winner and can be simply unplayable.

As someone who watches Žilina, that strikes me as a fair trade-off. Ceesay has had me shaking my head in resignation at his seeming incompetence more times than I care to remember. But the moments when he does something brilliant and makes you ask, ‘how the hell did he do that?’ are regular enough, and brilliant enough, to compensate. In any case, unpredictability itself can be a weapon sometimes. If, as I imagine, Ceesay sometimes doesn’t know what he’s going to do when the ball comes to him, then neither do the opposition. Also,  even if he did manage to add consistency to his game, it just wouldn’t be the same. Momo wouldn’t be Momo anymore.

 James Baxter

9 responses so far

Nov 28 2011

Mario Pecalka scores in Tel Aviv Derby

Published by under European

Mario Pecalka is apparently enjoying his time in Israel.  Here he is scoring the first goal in Hapoel’s 3-1 victory in the Tel Aviv derby.  Mario is already loved by team-mates and fans alike – especially since any player scoring in the derby becomes an immediate legend in the fans’ eyes:

Many thanks to Shahar Varshal for this.

One response so far

Nov 27 2011

Žilina v Banska Bystrica, Focus on: Martin Jakubko

Published by under Domestic

Pre-match

There have probably been more than enough accounts of Žilina games on this site already this season but I wanted this one to be at least partly about Banská Bystrica striker Martin Jakubko. Like Žilina’s own Zdeno Štrba and Trnava’s Miroslav Karhan, Jakubko is a retired Slovakia international who has returned to play in the Corgoň Liga after a spell abroad, in his case with four different Russian clubs. As such, he should be, and probably is, a cut above most players in the league.

Still aged just 31, Jakubko ended his international career following the 2010 World Cup, in which he made one brief but memorable appearance, winning the penalty from which Róbert Vittek scored the side’s consolation goal in their 2-1 defeat to Holland in the last 16. He returned to Bystrica this spring from Dinamo Moscow but injuries hampered his performances in the run-in to the end of last season. He has been in fine form this campaign, however, scoring 10 league goals and earning the praise of such opposition coaches as Senica’s Stanislav Griga and Slovan’s Vladimír Weiss. There is surely a chance that Weiss will make a move for Jakubko over the coming winter break because he appears to be just the type of striker Slovan need. Big and powerful, strong in the air and with his back to goal, he would make either an effective lone front-man or a good partner for someone like Filip Šebo. I actually think he would have enhanced Slovan’s Europa League campaign. It would be pushing it to say they would have qualified from the group with him in the squad but they might well have asked more serious questions of the Bilbao, Salzburg and PSG defences.

For all his qualities, however, Jakubko isn’t always the greatest of finishers, as my first memory of seeing him play suggests. It dates back to a 2005 first-leg cup-tie between Žilina and Bystrica, which the visitors dominated. Jakubko was all over the Žilina defence but, despite getting himself into some great positions, he couldn’t put the ball in the net. When the final whistle blew and the stadium announcer confirmed the scoreline, one wag in the crowd corrected  ‘Žilina 0 Banská Bystrica 0‘ with a shout of ‘Žilina 0 Jakubko 0’.

My second memory is both more recent and more positive. It relates to a 2009 Slovakia v Chile friendly, again played in Žilina. In truth, the occasion is actually more memorable for an outstanding Chile performance than anything else. For 70 minutes, the short, sharp passes and lightning movements of the South Americans made the Slovak team look primitive. Remarkably, largely thanks to some outstanding defending by Martin Škrtel, the game entered its last 20 minutes with the home side just 2-1 down, whereupon Weiss sent Jakubko on as a substitute. The change was both immediate and startling. Having barely seen the ball at all for much of the evening, Slovakia began to hit it long and high towards the Chilean penalty-area. With Jakubko glowering over them, the visiting defenders were almost visibly scurrying for cover. There were knockdowns, scrambles and chances. Chile held on for the win, and rightly so, but those closing minutes were testimony to how a big, physical attacker, properly deployed, can cause problems for even the classiest opposition.

It would be stretching credibility to draw too many comparisons between Žilina and Chile of course, but there are two common themes. Žilina do try to play a ‘pass-and-move’ style of football, more so, it seems, under Ľubomír Nosický than when Pavel Hapal was coach. They also lack defenders with the ability to physically dominate and thus are vulnerable to strikers of Jakubko’s type. Given that, as well as the fact that former Bystrica players Viktor Pečovský and Róbert Pich are now well-established at Žilina, Saturday’s game promised to be an interesting way to round of the season’s autumn phase…..

Post-match

With 44 minutes gone, I was thinking that Jakubko wasn’t going to give me much more to say. This wasn’t through any fault of his, it was because his team-mates were either too preoccupied with defending or, when they did get hold of the ball, too inept to give him any decent service. A couple of fouls were cleverly drawn from Marcel Ondráš, Žilina’s occasionally over-anxious centre-back, and that was about it. Žilina took the lead after just 2 minutes, Miroslav Barčík accepting Pečovský’s pass to finish with ease, and should have gone 2-0 up on the half-hour after Jozef Rejdovian had pulled down Stanislav Angelovič and been shown a red card. Patrik Mráz missed the penalty and must have been cursing himself when, with half-time imminent, Jakubko finally got into the game. Receiving the ball on the corner of the Žilina area, he drew three defenders to him before laying off to Ján Ľupták, whose speculative effort took enough of a deflection to wrongfoot Martin Krnáč.

The home team took just ten minutes of the second-half to re-establish their lead. It was a case of two players making amends for earlier failings ; Mráz curled in a free-kick and Ondráš scored. But Bystrica’s ten men fought gamely to stay in the contest, helped considerably by Jakubko’s physique and intelligence. He moved around well, came deep when necessary, held the ball up and, of course, continued to win free-kicks. He came desperately close to a scoring his team’s second equaliser too, when, following a long cross from the left, he stretched athletically to hit a low, narrow-angled volley which Krnáč did very well to keep out. Žilina had chances of their own but could not breathe easily until the 88th minute when Pečovský rattled in a low 25-yarder.

It all means that, rather like a woman tentatively agreeing to take the last chocolate from a box (‘I’m sure it’s not good for me but if you’re sure nobody else wants it…’), Žilina have taken over at the top of the Corgoň Liga again. This time, since the winter-break is now upon us, they’ll be there for at least three months. Say what you like about the quality of the league but you can’t deny that it’s close. Four teams, at the very least, will fancy their chances of making a championship challenge when the action starts again in February. What actually happens in spring naturally depends very much on what happens over the winter ; how the teams condition themselves during training and friendly matches, who they sell and who they bring in.

The Žilina-Bystrica game probably has some relevance to that final point. If Weiss watches a 90-minute video of it, and it’s inconceivable to me that he won’t, I think he’ll see enough there to convince him that Jakubko would indeed add something to Slovan’s title challenge. The player himself would presumably be agreeable to the move, since Bystrica are one side who will almost certainly not be among the main contenders. As a Žilina supporter, I could cope with all that. But if a club from the Slovak league, or one of comparable quality, comes in for Pečovský, I hope they’ll be told very firmly where to go. Unlike today’s game as a whole, the home number 12 was, yet again, just about flawless. I hope I’ll see plenty more of him in the yellow and green come spring.   

James Baxter

7 responses so far

Nov 21 2011

Corgon Liga Round 18 Review

Published by under Domestic

With just one full round of fixtures remaining before the winter break, things couldn’t be tighter at the top of the Corgon Liga.  All but one of the Round 18 fixtures in Slovakia ended 1-1 over the weekend, DAC Dunajska Streda being the only club to manage 3 points beating a Trencin side who are on a poor run of form and fearing losing some of their best players over the winter transfer window.  DAC move off the bottom of the table thanks to a couple of great goals from Bosnian midfielder Josip Coric.

The match of the weekend was in Trnava, Spartak hosting rivals Zilina in a fixture which was very well attended (7642) including hoards of travelling ‘fans’ from Zilina.  Stary Jazvec and Jose-Luis were there and will no doubt have more to say on this – Jose has some great photos up on Facebook here.  I say ‘great’ but it looks rather less than great as the Zilina crowd were obviously intent on causing chaos both inside and outside the ground.  Stories of flares being thrown from the visitor’s section and over-zealous policing will no doubt be elaborated upon by those who witnessed it all first hand.  The match finished 1-1 and was, once again, dominated by Miroslav Karhan, head and shoulders above the rest of the players on display.  Karhan scored the opened for Trnava with a fine strike from outside the box.  If Trnava stay in the title race, Karhan will be largely responsible with last week’s news of Kore Kone putting in a premature transfer request hardly likely to have impressed his team-mates.  Trnava are top of the league with a game in hand over most of their rivals, and will probably be pleased to have escaped this match with a point.

Slovan travelled to Zlate Moravce on Sunday for another ‘top 4′ encounter where either side gaining 3 points would have given a huge boost ahead of the winter break.  In fact it wasn’t to be, Milos Lacny’s 2nd goal in Slovan colours being equalised by a tremendous shot from the edge of the box by Martin Chren.  Both sides had chances to take the 3 points, but it surely be Slovan the most relieved with the draw, a couple of golden opportunities opened up for the home side in the dying minutes, none of which they were able to convert.  From the highlights I saw, Zlate Moravce should really have won this, then another awful mess-up of a one-on-one chance for Filip Sebo would really have been rued by Slovan.  There is plenty of talk about reinforcements to the Slovan attack being sourced in the winter transfer window, basically anybody who is on form in the Corgon Liga, and it will be interesting to see if Sebo keeps his place as preferred striker in this squad.

In front of just 541 spectators, Nitra drew with Kosice, bottom of the table Tatran Presov gained a point at Ruzomberok who will probably be quite disappointed to have lost ground to their rivals at the top of the league having arguably the easiest fixture of the round.  Presov’s equaliser came in the dying minutes of injury time and went in after a deflection from a home defender.  Dukla’s draw with Senica also hasn’t done much for either side’s chances although Senica’s game in hand against Trnava on Wednesday will be a result worth looking out for.

With the top 6 separated by just 4 points, the league has probably never been so close at the mid-season break.  Trnava are in the driving seat at the moment, and 4 points from their 2 upcoming matches against Senica and Trencin should probably see them crowned ‘Zimny-Majster’ but with all the talk of transfer movements during the break, it remains to be seen if they are the same force come 24th February.  Slovan have quietly managed to keep in touch at the top – which at one point looked unlikely – and come Spring will have their European adventure behind them and, one hopes, some sensible acquisitions from the transfer market.  James probably won’t want to talk up Zilina’s chances, but they are definitely right in the title race, and seem to be improving week by week at the moment.

As for Zlate Moravce, Senica and Ruzomberok, it remains to be seen if and which of these clubs manage to stay in the race.  That’s for the future, for the present, I am sure trio will be more than happy with their position in the league – and are all definitely in the race for European football next season.

Dukla, Nitra and Trencin have really been disappointing this season, and will be looking to improve drastically after the break.  The relegation dog-fight continues, DAC and Presov continuing to yo-yo off the bottom, with Kosice have apparently just about enough strength to stay clear of these two.

13 responses so far

Nov 17 2011

Focus On: Karim Guédé

Published by under Uncategorized

If I was asked who the best footballer currently operating in the Slovak Corgoň Liga is, I would probably say it is Karim Guédé. Various facts and opinions could be cited to back up such a view. Guédé has made close to 200 appearances in Slovakia, and has won league and cup doubles with both the clubs he has represented here – Artmedia Petržalka in 2007/2008 and Slovan Bratislava in 2010/2011 – as well as a cup winners medal with Slovan in 2009/2010. As a midfielder, he combines great skill and athleticism and, at his very very best (this may sound grandiose, so forgive me), reminds me a little of Patrick Viera. Many of those who’ve played against him regularly name him as their most difficult opponent.

This doesn’t quite explain, however, why Guédé is also a personal favourite player of mine, despite the fact that he plays for a rival club (I support Žilina). Other Slovan players, such as Juraj Halenár or Filip Šebo, are objectively good to watch but, whereas I always wish these two nothing but ill when they play against Žilina, I never find myself hoping Guédé has a particularly bad game. This isn’t even because he’s an especially honest player ; a penalty-area belly-flop in last April’s Žilina-Slovan game suggested that he’s as prone to sharp practice as any other professional. When it comes right down to it, I suppose my main reason for admiring Guédé could be described as a kind of inverse racism. It is that he is a black footballer in Slovakia, probably not an easy thing to be in itself, and one who has committed himself to the country sufficiently to qualify to play for its national team.

Guede (right) joins Filip Sebo to put their faces behind Slovakia's anti-racism campaign

The first time I saw Guédé play was in April 2007, towards the end of his first full season in Slovakia. The occasion co’incided with probably the best Žilina performance I’ve yet witnessed, a 6-1 humiliation of Petržalka, which as good as decided the outcome of the title race. There was so much to enthuse about after that game, not least the brilliant hat-trick from substitute Dare Vršič, but I do distinctly remember a friend commenting to me that Guédé had looked useful in the visitors’ midfield. It was an impression he would more than confirm in the years to come.

When owner Ivan Kmotrík pulled out of Petržalka to invest in Slovan in the summer of 2008, a matter of months after their double success, he was soon followed by a veritable procession of some of the better players, including Branislav Obžera, Radek Dosoudil, Kornel Saláta and Halenár. Guédé and Ján Kozák, by contrast, stayed behind for the time being. In Kozák’s case, this may well have been because he’d made some ill-advised comments about Slovan and their fans before and indeed these rebounded on him soon after he eventually did join the club, in the spring of 2009. Guédé remained with Petržalka for a further year, often being the stand-out player in an increasingly forlorn-looking side. When he did join forces with his old team-mates across the river Danube, success followed fairly quickly as Slovan thrashed Trnava 6-0 to win the Slovak Cup.

It was later that summer, when the dust had settled on Slovakia’s World Cup adventure, that Vladimír Weiss began to talk of Guédé as someone he would one day like to select for the national side. FIFA regulations and Slovak citizenship laws had to be observed first but Guédé was in fulfilment of these by August of this year, in time for a friendly in Austria. It was a good moment for the symbolism alone ; a black player representing the country associated with some of the most notorious football-related racial abuse of the new millennium did feel like a step forward. There were good footballing reasons to be optimistic too. With Zdeno Štrba retired and Miroslav Karhan nearing the end of his career, there was a feeling that the team needed Guédé and his qualities in its midfield. And those who, like me, had seen him give dominant performances against their favoured club were looking forward to watching him line up for a team they actually supported.

In action v Stuttgart

Sadly, however, the start of his international career appears to have co’incided with a bit of a slump in Guédé’s all-round form. He has perhaps been unlucky that Slovakia have not been playing well in general, as their failure to get anywhere near Euro 2012 qualification demonstrates, but his individual performances have not convinced. His passing has been erratic, his positional awareness a little suspect and he’s looked somewhat unsure of himself.

Guede shares a joke with Weiss Jr & Marek Hamsik

The strength and athleticism which help him run games in the domestic league have been neutralised. These problems have not been confined to the international arena either. Guédé also appears to have struggled recently in the Corgoň Liga (he was blamed for a late equaliser Slovan conceded against Senica two weeks ago, for example) and in the Europa League. In the latter competition, he was substituted in both the recent matches against PSG – in the first, this seemed to be because he was running the risk of being sent-off.

It could be that this is just a lot of pointless wittering about one of those temporary losses of form all players endure. In fact, I genuinely hope that proves to be the case. But remember that Guédé is, of this moment, unique. He is the only player who has had to fulfil residence requirements in order to play for Slovakia and that has meant more than five years of Corgoň Liga football. Most of us have seen players here who have clearly been too good for this league. For me, Stanislav Šesták, Marek Sapara and (ultimately) Peter Pekarík spring to mind as examples. The difference is that these players were free to move on and play at a better level, in the process actually improving their international prospects. With Guédé, it might be that hanging around in Slovak football has limited his development ; that now, at the very time he can play for Slovakia, he is not quite the player he was two years or more ago.

As I say, I hope these worries prove unfounded. If Guédé is as good as I’ve always thought he is, he’ll come back and be an integral part of the Slovakia squad for the next few years. He might even emerge a better player from this dip in form and at least he can now say he has been playing against some quality sides this autumn, what with the Slovakia matches and Slovan’s clashes with Bilbao, PSG and Salzburg. Also, of course, with Slovak citizenship, he is free to move abroad if the right offer comes in. On balance, and despite club loyalties, I hope that doesn’t happen just yet. Guédé has become a familiar figure, he’s a player I like to watch, and, for reasons I hope I’ve explained, he’s been good for Slovak football.

James Baxter

 

17 responses so far

Nov 07 2011

Midweek tips

Published by under Domestic

Recently James has been trying his hand predicting Corgon Liga results.  Hardly fair that James submits his predictions and then has to endure the mockery when a few go wrong.  So this week I’ll submit my own predictions and would like to invite our other regular readers to submit theirs for the 4 midweek Corgon Liga fixtures, plus one from Div 2:

 

 

 Dan

James

Jazvec

Result

Slovan v Dukla

 2-0   3-1  0-5  3-2

Presov v Zlate Moravce

 1-2  1-1  1-2  0-1

Kosice v Ruzomberok

 1-2   1-1   1-1  1-1

DAC v Nitra

 0-0  2-1   1-1  0-2

Mihalovce v Petrzalka

 3-1   2-1   2-0  1-0

 1 point for a correct result, 3 points for a correct scoreline. 

We’ll soon find out who is the master of tipping the Corgon Liga.

8 responses so far

Nov 06 2011

Zilina 3-1 Senica

Published by under Domestic

I was so convinced Senica were not going to lose this game that I already had a little write-up planned on what a strong side they are and how we should not discount them when considering contenders for the Corgoň Liga title. It’s a genuine surprise to find myself recounting an accomplished Žilina performance and a comfortable 3-1 home win. How did it happen?

First, I still think Senica are strong. In Stanislav Griga, they have a coach with rich and varied experience of Czech, Slovak and international football. He guided them to a second-placed finish last season and a lot of the players involved in that achievement are still around, including Tomáš Kóňa and Juraj Piroška (both of whom have played for Slovakia his year), goalkeeper Peter Bolek and holding midfielder and long-throw specialist Tomáš Strnad. After a mixed start to this season, they had gone ten games unbeaten going into the Žilina game and had not conceded a goal in five successive away matches. So I don’t think I was being irrational in expecting them to emerge from this match with at least a draw.

Furthermore, in contrast to the visitors, Žilina’s form going into the match had been patchy. Their previous home game, two weeks ago, was a dire struggle with bottom side Prešov, the 1-0 win fooling no’one. Last weekend, they deservedly lost away to Slovan ; again, the fact that the title-holders left it late to score their winner did not gloss over the fact that Žilina had never really been in the game. Then, on Tuesday, they needed penalties to get the better of Prešov and progress to the semi-finals of the Slovak Cup.

Perhaps the key to the win over Senica was the fact that Griga celebrated his 50th birthday on Friday. As he was born in Žilina and started both his playing and coaching careers with his hometown club, the occasion was never going to be allowed to go unmarked. Before the game kicked off, players from both sides lined up respectfully and the crowd applauded warmly as Griga received gifts from Žilina owner Jozef Antošík. If all this was a softening-up tactic, it worked to perfection, as the home side went on to dominate much of the game.

With just 7 minutes gone, Viktor Pečovský released Roman Gergel with a brilliant pass out to the left. The cross came in, Momodou Ceesay’s effort hit the bar, but was diverted back over the line by the unlucky Petr Šíma. Senica hit back quickly and, after controlling possession for a spell, scored a 22nd minute equaliser through Jiří Valenta following Piroška’s cross. Another four minutes later, Žilina had a free-kick on the edge of the box and Patrik Mráz sent the ball swerving and dipping into the top corner of Bolek’s net. Seven minutes before half-time, Mráz completed the scoring from the penalty spot after Petr Pavlík had shoved Tomáš Majtán to the ground. Having not conceded an away goal in around 500 minutes of football, Senica had now shipped three in 38.

The second-half was a more sedate affair. Strnad got plenty of throwing practice at the beginning of it without seriously bothering the home defence. Piroška and former Žilina player Martin Ďurica did threaten intermittently and the former had a reasonable-looking penalty appeal refused but Žilina were still playing the better football and would have won by a more convincing margin had Ceesay and Stanislav Angelovič not missed inviting chances.  Still, a 3-1 win is surprise enough.

I don’t think the result reveals too much except perhaps that no team near the top of the Corgoň Liga yet looks good enough to run away with the title. Perhaps you could be more positive, as Slovan coach Vladimír Weiss was this week, and say that there are now quite a few sides who look capable of making a challenge and that this suggests that the quality of the league is improving. Weiss’s own team face their big derby away at Trnava on Sunday knowing that a win will see them move level on points with Žilina at the top, while defeat would see them remain in sixth place. You could disagree with Weiss’s point about the league’s quality but you can’t deny that, for now at least, it’s being closely fought.

Other conclusions? Firstly, Mr Griga could be forgiven a certain suspicion of warm birthday wishes from now on. And Žilina’s Mráz and Pečovský, both excellent against Senica, are surely destined for bigger and better things. Mráz must have the sweetest left-foot in Slovak football, while Pečovský runs the game from deep midfield and almost never gives the ball away. Two players to appreciate while they’re still around, I feel.   

James Baxter

One response so far

Nov 05 2011

Corgon Liga Round 15 Preview

Published by under Domestic

There was no Corgoň Liga preview from me last week but the Round 14 matches were interesting enough, if not always for the right reasons. The highlights included bottom club Prešov’s  2-0 win over leaders Trnava, Ružomberok recording their fourth win in five games,   despite playing 72 minutes of their match at Nitra with ten men, Košice scoring more than one goal in a game for the first time since April and Slovan Bratislava overcoming Žilina with a late goal to move closer to the league’s summit and suggest that their domestic ‘crisis’ really is behind them. Rather less positively, seven red cards were flourished, including three at the Trenčín-Senica game and two at Slovan-Žilina. The SFZ disciplinary committee is going to have a busy week. I would prefer to let them get on with their deliberations in peace and concentrate my attention on this weekend’s fixtures, most of which have an intriguing look about them.

Nitra’s home game with Trenčín is a clash of two sides needing to pick up points to keep them clear of the bottom end of the table. Nitra will sense an opportunity to put their failings against ‘Ruža’ behind them and end a worrying run of eight matches without a win. Trenčín saw their unbeaten home record ended by Senica last Saturday and have not travelled well all season, though they did earn an unexpected point at Ružomberok two weeks ago. It should be close but I think Nitra will edge it.   

Ružomberok must have been delighted with their last result, especially since they were 1-0 down at the time of Ján Kostelný’s sending-off and had started the game without their top scorer Pavol Masaryk. They now face a home fixture against DAC Dunajská Streda, who returned to the bottom of the league last Saturday courtesy of a 2-0 home defeat by Vion Zlaté Moravce. DAC are not a lost cause just yet and are capable of inflicting shock defeats on teams from the top end of the table but Ruža seem to be in too good a run to allow such a thing to happen to them.

Zlaté Moravce ought to fancy their chances of following up their win at DAC with another three points at home to Košice. Their visitors from the east will be in good spirits themselves, having come from behind to beat Banská Bystrica 3-1 last weekend. After failing to register more than a single goal in any of their previous 17 league outings, Košice scored three in the last 35 minutes of that game. It’s difficult to see them managing more than one at the most this time round, though, and the solid-looking Vion side should have enough about them to claim the three points.

Bystrica, who must be the most frustrating team in the league (not that there isn’t stiff competition for that title), now find themselves at home to another eastern side in the shape of Prešov. Having just defeated Trnava, decisively by all accounts, to move off the bottom of the league, Prešov should be in a good frame of mind going into this match. Still, I would expect Bystrica to show themselves in a better light, their strikers, Martin Jakubko and Dušan Uškovič, to reveal their capabilities and the points to stay in central Slovakia.

Saturday’s later game sees Žilina take on Senica. Stanislav Griga’s second-placed visitors are currently the league’s most consistent side and haven’t lost since a 2-1 home defeat in the reverse fixture back in August. Žilina lost 2-1 away to Slovan last weekend and home coach Vladimír Weiss offered an interesting insight on them after that match, suggesting that they’d tried to adopt defensive tactics despite the fact that their players are far more suited to a pass-and-move style. I would say they miss the aggression and presence of the likes of Mario Pečalka or Ľubomír Guldan in games against the league’s stronger sides and Senica are certainly one of those. One thing that might bother Griga is that his side were recipients of two of the red cards at Trenčín but, even given the resulting suspensions, I can’t see their unbeaten run ending at Žilina .

The Sunday match is the big derby ; Trnava v Slovan. With the home side still top of the league and Slovan improving fast, it’s a fascinating fixture. The main questions would seem to concern Trnava’s ability to get the Prešov defeat out of their system quickly and Slovan’s to recover from what will certainly have been a tiring midweek Europa League game. Considering that the home side have responded well to earlier defeats this season and Weiss’s team seem to be learning to balance domestic and European demands, I think the answers will be positive and neither side will give the other an inch. Like Žilina-Senica, it will be a draw and thus it will be ‘as you were’ at the top of the Corgoň Liga.

Even though my predictions weren’t too good last time, I’m having another go as follows : 

Nitra 2 Trenčín 1

Ružomberok 2 DAC 0

Zlaté Moravce 1 Košice 0

Banská Bystrica 3 Prešov 1

Žilina 1 Senica 1

Trnava 1 Slovan 1

James Baxter

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Nov 04 2011

Paris & Bratislava; a tale of two footballing cities

Published by under European,Guest

Delighted to welcome old friend and Paris resident David Williams to the blog with his account of another disappointing night for Slovan Bratislava in the group stages of the Europa League:

Earlier this year, during a week’s break in Eastern Europe, your guest blogger and a couple of fellow Parisian holiday thrill-seekers had the pleasure of accompanying former schoolmate BritskiBelasi and his elite selection of expat Slovak football cognoscenti to Slovan’s victorious Champions League home leg against Kazakh champions Tobol Kostany.

That balmy Zlatý Bažant fuelled July evening at a surprisingly atmospheric Pasienky- a perfect caricature of this Westerner’s vision of Eastern European stadia, with its stark, modernist floodlights and scoreboard, despite its patent limitations as a football ground and spiritual home for Slovan – couldn’t be much further removed from adrenched and rather dreary Parc des Princes in early November.

Of course, no sane person would spurn a visit to the “City of Light”, but Paris really is a lot more pleasant in the springtime, or at least before the clocks go back. As long-term 1920s resident Ernest Hemingway once remarked “All the sadness of the city came suddenly with the first cold rains of winter, and there were no more tops to the high white houses as you walked but only the wet blackness of the street.”

Thus it was, unseasonably mild temperatures apart, that Hakim and I returned, accompanied by Jérémie and Stéphane this time, to see our summer crush in the flesh for a second time as they sought to replicate the kind of performance that earned them a draw at home to PSG, one of the self-declared most financially ambitious clubs in Europe, their bombast bolstered in recent weeks by the continuing clamour surrounding David Beckham’s mooted arrival in January.

Pre-match expectations settled on a modest but essential victory for the home side given PSG’s variable form in Europe, in stark contrast with their domestic dominance of 9 wins in the last 11, including impressive victories against Montpellier and Lyon.

From the off, there were clear differences in quality and approach between the two teams, with PSG attacking relentlessly, but without much success, through a tasty quartet of Erding, Pastoré, Nenê and Menez, while Slovan made a virtue out of necessity with 10 men behind the ball. This pattern lasted right until midway through the second half when PSG finally broke the deadlock, a cruel turning point coming just seconds after Halenar’s horrendous miss from only 10 yards following Guede’s excellent work down to the right byline. Subsequently, PSG sat back and allowed a much more adventurous Slovan to take the game to them in their own half, and the match at last developed something of an ebb and flow.

More authoritative match reports can doubtless be found elsewhere, but in a scrappy match more notable for heavy rain and poor control rather than high quality and silky skills, players who impressed for an outpaced, outmuscled Slovan included Martin Dobrotka, an assured presence at the back all night long, and Filip Šebo, who had a mild penalty claim in the first half and looked an excellent all-round package… despite a performance where nothing quite came off for him. Slovan may look hard at their midfield which struggled to break after Parisian attacks, frequently being harried and chased off the ball all too easily. However they did construct some long passing moves towards the end of the game, winning in the process their only two corners of the match in the closing minutes right in front of their delighted fans – a hearty 250-strong contingent who provided robust supportfor their team from beginning to end, despite being massively outnumbered and horrendously abused by the PSG fans, for whom perhaps the 0-0 draw a fortnight ago still rankled [could be their non-admittance to the game which rankled-Ed.]

As for the atmosphere generated by the home fans, much has changed in recent years since the dissolution by the French authorities of the six sets of “ultras” which used to command the two kops (Boulogne and Auteuil) behind the goals. In brief, repeated clashes between different factions led to the death of a Boulogne fan in 2010, banning orders for those in the hierarchy and a principled boycott by many former ‘foot soldiers’ who stayed away en masse from home games in the 201011 season, while the club was ‘cleaned up’ and sold to Qatari investors and a more family friendly clientele encouraged to fill a half-empty stadium (my previous midweek visit to the Parc in May 2011 was before some 27,000 spectators, about average for the season but over 20,000 short of full capacity).

This season, however, PSG have become the best supported team in France with an average league gate of 40,610, thanks to strong performances and heightened expectations following the arrival ofArgentine record signing Pastoré (for a mere €40 million). While the atmosphere last year was noticeable for its youthfulness (shrill teenagers mimicking the coarse hooligan culture they had grown up with), the middle aged demographic had now returned in a respectable midweek crowd of over 35,000. The two Kops were in good voice, particularly after the goal when the cannabis-perfumed Kop d’Auteuil exploded into life, culminating in a somewhat classless “Poznan” celebrationthat obviously brought to mind PSG’s nouveau-riche counterparts Manchester City.

Given the apparent volatile nature of Slovak football, it is probably best that I let more seasoned observers pontificate on Slovan’s prospects for the Corgon Liga, now that their Europa ambitions have been extinguished, and on their potential (likely?) European involvement next season.

As for PSG, they just about redeemed themselves and now have a good chance of qualifying for the latter stages of the Europa – a competition in which their new owners expect them to be a lot more than just also rans. After their strong start to the first third of the Ligue 1 season they will also surely be hoping for a top-three finish come May time and Champions League football next season, but would definitely have to strengthen and/or become much more clinical in front of goal to have any realistic chance of reaching the knock-out phases, a feat their great rivals Marseille only achieved in 2010-11 after three consecutive failed attempts.

 David Williams

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