Archive for May, 2012

May 31 2012

Holland 2-0 Slovakia

Published by under International

Holland became the second Euro 2012 finallists to defeat Slovakia in the space of four days,  earning a 2-0 win in Wednesday’s friendly in Rotterdam.

Stanislav Griga and Michal Hipp made six changes to the Slovak side that started Saturday’s game against Poland. Ján Mucha returned in goal, Kornel Saláta replaced Ľubomír Michalík in central-defence, Karim Guédé was given a chance in midfield, Miroslav Stoch and Michal Breznaník took over from Stanislav Šesták and Erik Jendrišek in the wide positions, and Marek Bakoš started up-front in place of Filip Hološko.

 

The game got off to a curious start. Within the first minute, Dutch defenders John Heitinga and Wilfred Bouma clashed heads as the latter put the ball behind for a corner. As they were receiving treatment on the touchline, Guédé rolled the ball short to Peter Pekarík, and the right-back‘s outswinging cross was headed against the bar by Marek Hamšík. Five minutes later, Holland, by now restored to eleven men, took the lead. Ibrahim Afellay’s low ball in from the left was deflected past Mucha by Saláta. It was a remarkably similar own-goal to one the Rostov defender scored at an even earlier stage of the friendly against Denmark in Trnava14 months ago.

 

The tone for most of the first-half was now set. Holland kept possession very well and, especially through Afellay and Robin Van Persie (who often drifted out to the left), caused the Slovak defence a number of problems. When the visitors did get the ball, the Dutch pressed them hard to win it back again. With Guédé and Marek Čech struggling to get passing moves started, Hamšík was frequently forced to drop deep to help them out. Still, there were occasional bright moments, generally involving Stoch’s runs down the right. On the stroke of half-time, Slovakia had a decent chance to equalise, but Bakošhaving chased a long ball out of defence, dragged his shot a foot or so wide of the left-hand post.

 

The first 15 minutes of the second-half were probably Slovakia’s best period of the game. Tomáš Kóňa and Roman Procházka, on for Guédé and Breznaník, both slotted in well. Kóňa was assured in possession and linked well with the attacking players, while Procházka combined effectively with Pekarík to set up some promising situations down the right. These never developed into clear-cut chances, however, and Holland gradually reasserted themselves. Rafael Van Der Vaart, another substitute, finally made the game safe for his teamafter 75 minutes. Again, there was an element of fortune in the goal, or at least an element of misfortune for Slovakia. Tomáš Hubočan did well to dispossess Klaas-Jan Huntelaar with a perfectly-timed challenged inside the penalty-area, only for the ball to rebound to Van Der Vaart, who finished clinically.

 

If only we had some clinical Slovak finishing to report on. Holland were always going to be the classier side in this match, and it was too much to hope that Slovakia would have enough of the play to create more than a few scoring opportunities. But even against lesser opponents, it’s hard to see where goals are going to come from. Bakoš certainly has a future in attack but probably needs more games (and a little patience) before he becomes a reliable finisher at this level. Stoch comes up with the occasional spectacular strike but is really more of a provider, while Hamšík hasn’t scored for his country since 2009 and the last match at Tehelné pole. A look at those who were absent from Rotterdam doesn’t offer much comfort either. Róbert Vittek is still unfit, Vladimír Weiss Junior is in the same bracket as Stoch, and Jendrišek and Šesták, both of whom were once prolific strikers, appear to have lost their predatory instincts.  

 

Yet Griga and Hipp can rightly feel encouraged by certain aspects of their team’s play. The Poland game and this one offer certain clues to the coaches‘ thinking, perhaps the most notable of which is that three of the back four have now played 180 minutes together. The experiment of fielding Dušan Švento at left-back has been largely successful. The Salzburg man had Arjen Robben to control in Rotterdam and he did the job well, rarely allowing the Bayern Munich winger to cut in onto his favoured left foot. Hubočan, meanwhile, is beginning to look like an international centre-back and will surely be the preferred choice alongside Martin Škrtel come the autumn. The positive difference Senica’s Kóňa and Trnava’s Procházka made when they came on was also good to see, and suggested that the Corgoň Liga needn’t necessarily be written off as a source of players for the national team.

 

While the Dutch party make final preparations for Euro 2012, their Slovak counterparts have the beach or the sofa to look forward to. The next friendly, the last before the start of World Cup qualification, is away to Denmark in Odense on August 15th. A goal or two in that one would be nice, just to encourage the thought that the side will, after all, be able to break down the defences of Lithuania and Liechtenstein the following month.

JB

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May 27 2012

Slovakia 0-1 Poland

Published by under International

 

Slovakia lost their first game under joint-coaches Stanislav Griga and Michal Hipp on Saturday, 1-0 to Poland in the Austrian town of Klagenfurt. A Damien Perquis header after 30 minutes was the difference between the teams in what was the Euro 2012 co-hosts’ penultimate friendly ahead of the start of the tournament on June 8th.

 

The Slovak starting XI had a familiar look about it, though it contained only five of those who started the Turkey friendly in February. In the absence of Martin Škrtel, Ľubomír Michalík formed a central-defensive partnership with Tomáš Hubočan, Salzburg’s Dušan Švento made his international return as a left-back, the versatile Marek Čech lined up alongside Juraj Kucka in midfield, while Erik Jendrišek and Stanislav Šesták replaced Miroslav Stoch and Vladimír Weiss in the attacking wide positions. Other changes saw Dušan Perníš get 90 minutes in goal and Filip Hološko start up front.

 

Poland largely dominated the first-half and should really have been more than a goal up going into the interval. The dangerous Maciej Rybus went closest to doubling their lead when he hit the post just before half-time. The second period was much more encouraging for Griga and Hipp, as their side took advantage of the numerous substitutions made by the Poles. The disappointment was that they largely failed to trouble Wojciech Szczesny. Marek Bakoš (on for Hološko) and Čech did get shots on target but the Arsenal ‘keeper smothered them fairly easily. Meanwhile, the striking instincts of Jendrišek and Šesták looked to have completely deserted them. Both got into promising situations near goal, but neither managed to get a decent effort in. In fact, the only difficult save Szczesny had to make was in the first-half, when he turned aside Marek Hamšík’s low volley.

 

Griga said afterwards that, while no coach can ever be satisfied with a defeat, there was nothing to criticisin the players’ approach to their game and that much of their football was good. He felt that Bakoš, with his aggression, and ability to hold the ball up, made a positive difference in the second-half. But he pointed to a poor 30 minutes or so in the first-half and the four or five missed scoring opportunities as the reasons for the defeat. One would hope that, as a former international striker himself, Griga might be able to help improve the team’s finishing. Bearing in mind that record of seven goals in ten Euro 2012 qualifying matches, we’ve long been aware of how much it needs improving.

 

There were some decent individual performances. Michalík, after a difficult period in the first-half, ultimately settled in well. He and Hubočan gave the Polish forwards nothing at all in the second period. Švento’s pace was an asset up and down the left, though the Poles did sometimes find space down his flank in the opening 45 minutes. He might also look again at whether he could have cut out the cross, from Lukasz Piszczek, which led to Perquis’ goal.

Slovakia’s best player, however, was probably Hamšík, who, besides coming closest to scoring, impressed throughout with his running and passing. If he could just learn to get a free-kick past the first defender, he would be free of my criticisms for ever.

 

Slovakia now head to Rotterdam to face Holland, the team who knocked them out of the 2010World Cup. The Dutch will be keen to make amends for a surprise defeat to Bulgaria on Saturday and are sure to make life difficult. Still, it’s the kind of test Griga and Hipp will no doubt welcome at this stage of their tenure, especially when the actual result is not of life-changing importance.

 

JB

 


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May 26 2012

Clubs in Crisis

Published by under Domestic

 

MŠK Žilina are celebrating their sixth Corgoň Liga title of the millenium and Spartak Myjava are delighted with a first-ever promotion to Slovak football‘s top tier. But, as the season draws to its end, there are other clubs who have little to be happy about. Over the last week, more details have emerged of the crisis at MFK Ružomberok. Meanwhile, the players at second-tier MFK Dubnica have adopted a rather novel form of protest at the ongoing non-payment of their salaries.

 

It has been clear for a while that something was wrong at Ruža. Captain Pavel Masaryk voiced some of the players’ concerns after a 2-0 defeat at Senica earlier this month. In the following days, Peter Hoferica and Miroslav Markovič, both of whom had been substituted in the first-half of that game, left the club. Then it was announced that Aleš Křejček, who took over as coach last September, would also be on his way once the season had ended. The departure of a further three players was announced after the defeat at Trnava in the penultimate round of league fixtures.

 

Basically, what is happening is a brutal round of cost-cutting, undertaken on the orders of Milan Fiľo, Ruža’s majority shareholder (he also continues to own 49% of Mondi SCP, the town’s biggest employer). Most significant in this is the scrapping of the club’s reserve team, Ružomberok B, who were the only second-string to compete in the II Liga this season. They have done quite well too, and will ensure a top-six finish if they win this Sunday‘s final match. But Milan Baraník, the club’s managing director explains that the budget cuts are a direct result of the first team’s failure to qualify for next season’s European competitions. They finished sixth in the Corgoň Liga, a position midfielder Tomáš Ďubek refuses to see as a disaster‘It’s neither here nor there,’ he says. ‘You can’t say it’s a big disappointment. But the board wanted a European place and we couldn’t fulfil their wishes.’ Unsurprisingly, Ďubek and Masaryk have now made clear that they too will be leaving the club.

 

This is rather sad news for a club that won a league and cup double as recently as 2006. But itis not a great surprise, given that there seems to have been a fair degree of mismanagement over the last two seasons. For a start, the players’ salaries were often delayed in 2010/2011. Then there was the reappointment of Ladislav Jurkemík as head coach last March, followed, six months later, by his sacking. Disgusted at his treatment, Jurkemík now says he would never consider working for Ruža again. Finally, there was the charade of making the players fund spectators’ entry to matches, as punishment for their cup exit at the hands of lower division opposition last autumn. As for the future, it appears that current B-team coachVladimír Rusnák will now make the step up to the post of head coach. He will need all the good luck going.

 

Oddly enough, Ruža B were the visitors – and onlookers - when the players of MFK Dubnica staged their on-field protest earlier this week. On their way onto the pitch to start the match, the home players placed stickers over the club badges on their shirts. They then kicked offand immediately put the ball out of the play. Then the entire XI bent down to untie and retie their bootlaces, thus delaying the restart of the game. Captain Matej Ižvolt explains that he and his team-mates wanted to protest in a way which would be original and would not expose them to the risk of punishment by the game’s authorities. ‘We covered our badges to show we were playing for ourselves,’ Ižvolt says. ‘The club hasn’t paid us for three months, so we’ve been playing for free.’

 

Club director Milan Nemečkay says he felt ‘offended’ by the players’ actions and claims he had already pledged to sit down with them at the end of the season to resolve the salary problem. But Ižvolt claimthat there have been enough promises already. He also points out that the protest had the full support of the Ruža team, though not of Rusnák, who was apparently angry with his side for waiting for their opponents to finish with their laces. The Dubnica fans also showed their backing for the protest, in the form of a prolonged round of applause after the ball had been kicked out of play.

 

Again, this is a sad situation. Dubnica’s 10-year stay in the Corgoň Liga finally ended in relegation last season. They were always one of the top-flight’s smaller clubs and never likely to challenge for the title, though they did play an Inter-Toto Cup tie against Newcastle United in 2005/2006. Their great strength has been in nurturing young talents – Slovan Bratislava’s Erik Grendel and Žilina’s Peter Šulek both came through their youth system – and have long had a reputation for attractive passing football. But they may now be paying the price for throwing money at last season’s failed survival bid. As for the immediate future, Ižvolt insists that he and his colleagues will fulfil the club’s final II Liga fixture of the season, away to champions Myjava on Sunday. But he is even more firm on the point that action, rather than more words, are needed from the board.  

 

The problems at Ruža and Dubnica are doubtless just the tip of an iceberg. We know, for example, that DAC Dunajská Streda were not paying salaries last autumn and almost didn’t fulfil their spring fixtures. What will happen to them following relegation from the Corgoň Liga remains to be seen. FK Púchov, winners of the Slovak Cup in 2003, resigned from III Liga západ in March. Then, of course, there is Petržalka. Champions League group stage participants in 2005/2006, they will finish bottom of II Liga this season. Their cash-flow problems must mean that the chances of them fielding a senior team in 2012/2013 can be no better than 50-50. Clearly, a lot of hard work will be needed over the coming months just to keep some clubs in existence.

JB

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May 23 2012

James Baxter’s End of Season Awards

Published by under Domestic

Corgoň Liga 2011/2012 – the Britski Belasi Awards

I’m a Žilina supporter so apologies in advance for any subjectivity or lack of wider perspective in my nominations. Alternative nominations are most welcome.

Best Team

‘The best team always wins,’ said the legendary former Notts County manager Jimmy Sirrel, ‘the rest is only gossip.’ That’s very true, and means that Žilina’s double-winners  have been the best team in Slovakia in 2011/2012. Still, it’s fair to acknowledge some of the ‘gossip’ first. With better finishing, Ružomberok and Zlaté Moravce could both have taken 3-0 half-time leads in matches at Žilina this spring. Both paid for their profligacy as the home players ultimately asserted themselves. Also, Trnava and Ružomberok (again) both had reasonable penalty appeals turned down in games they lost 1-0 to Žilina. Undeniably then, lady luck has been favouring yellow and green this year.

But Žilina have also been disciplined, resourceful and versatile. Their defence has been solid, even though Jozef Piaček (its main pillar) has had five different centre-back partners during the course of the season. Behind him, Martin Krnáč has deputised superbly in goal for the injured Martin Dúbravka. The midfielders have switched positions and been consistently creative. No one striker has rivalled Filip Šebo’s scoring exploits for Slovan Bratislava last season, but Tomáš Majtán and Róbert Pich have shared 19 strikes between them. When the forwards’ finishing has been off-colour, midfielders and defenders have chipped in with goals. Perhaps most important, Žilina have a strong squad. Like Slovan, they have suffered with injuries this season, but have coped better with them than the Bratislava team have.

Best Player

Honourable mentions here must go to Senica midfielder Tomáš Kóňa, Paraguayan playmaker Jorge Salinas and Trinidadian striker Lester Peltier (both of Trenčín) and Ruža captain Pavol Masaryk, the league’s top goalscorer.

But there are two truly outstanding candidates and I am unable to choose between them. The first is Žilina’s Viktor Pečovský. He generally plays as a deep-lying midfielder, heading opposition attacks off at the pass, and distributing the ball with simplicity and accuracy to get his own team moving forward. Despite being one of the league’s shortest players, he has even filled in at centre-back. The mistakes he has made this season could probably be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Then there is Trnava’s Miroslav Karhan. With 107 international caps and a wealth of European club experience behind him, he is a player the whole Corgoň Liga, never mind Trnava, is lucky to have. Versatile, and a leader both on the pitch and in the dressing-room, he has been central to his club’s emergence as genuine title-contenders, as opposed to respectable top-half finishers, this season.

Best Young Player

This category presents a couple of difficulties. First, any definition of ‘young’ is always going to be arbitrary. For the purposes of this feature, only players still under 22 when the season ended will qualify. Then there is the fact that young players tend to be inconsistent. Do we look for those whose performances have become reasonably reliable over a period of time, those who’ve produced something particularly special, or a combination of the two? Without being entirely certain of what I’m looking for, I’ve come up with a shortlist of four.

Jean Deza, Žilina’s 18 year-old Peruvian winger, has outstanding potential and has done some extraordinary things this season. One example was his goal at Dunajská Streda last Sunday. His club don’t yet count on him to produce 90-minute performances and have tended to use him as a late substitute, to run at tiring defenders. You can be sure, though, that they will be keen to hang onto him for next season.

Slovan forward Karol Mészáros, also 18, has emerged since the winter break. He has a creditable spring return of four goals and looks a bright, tricky player. Hopefully, the experience of playing in a team that hasn’t lived up to its own expectations won’t have dented his confidence.

Trnava full-back Michal Habánek turned a few heads when, as a 17 year-old, he brilliantly set up a goal for his side against Slovan last autumn. With a total of 17 league appearances behind him this season, he is already beginning to mature and is both solid in defence and dangerous going forward.

One of the finest goals at Žilina this season was scored by Trenčín’s Samuel Štefaník. At 21, he is slightly older than my other candidates, and his greater experience is reflected in the pivotal role he plays alongside Salinas in his team’s midfield. Like Habánek, he has already represented Slovakia at various age-group levels.

If pressed to choose just one player for this award, I would go for Štefaník, but it will be interesting to monitor the progress of all four nominees next season.

Best Coach

Frans Adelaar has won two trophies in his nine games in charge of Žilina. However, most of the important work on the team was not done by him, but by his predecessor Ľuboš Nosický and the club’s backroom staff. Adelaar’s disqualification leaves us with two outstanding candidates. The first is Trnava’s Czech coach, Pavel Hoftych. He took over the reins last summer, in the midst of a boycott by fans, but led his side to the final Europa League qualification round and to a second-placed finish in the league. He has instilled discipline and spirit in his players, and talks a lot of good sense. Points against him are that his tactics sometimes seem over-cautious and that he appears distrustful of players with flair. There is also a sense that Karhan’s on-field presence has been as much of a factor in Trnava’s season as the coach.

So the best coach is Adrián Guľa of Trenčín. Leading a newly-promoted side to fifth place in the league is a decent achievement in itself. Even more impressively, Guľa has overseen some of the most skillful, exciting football played in Slovakia this season. His team have benefitted from their own artificial pitch but their away record, which was fairly abject in the autumn, has improved dramatically this spring, to the extent that they have earned 2-2 draws at Žilina, Trnava and Slovan. Like Hoftych, Guľa is calm and level-headed. He is clearly a keen student of the game and will doubtless come to the attention of bigger clubs before much longer.

Best Fans

There is no contest in this category and one statistic should tell you why. A total of 7,509 people watched last Sunday’s six Corgoň Liga matches. Over 3,000 of them were Trnava fans who’d travelled to see their team play at Nitra. Here are more reasons ; 2,000 or so Trnava fans came to Žilina for a Friday night game in April. Not only did they create as good a footballing atmosphere as you’ll ever get in Slovakia, their conduct was later commended in a letter from Žilina officials to their visiting counterparts. Perhaps we are seeing now what a well-organised boycott can lead to. Last spring, Trnava followers stayed away from their club in protest at the way it was being run. Now, things are being done properly in the boardroom and the support from the stands is excellent. Such togetherness is yet another reason Trnava have had such a fine campaign on the field. It would be good for Slovak football as a whole if this continued next season.

Best Moment
It might not have happened in the Corgoň Liga, but it featured a member club and was almost certainly the moment which gained more international attention for Slovak football this season than any other. It is Peter Štepanovský’s 82nd minute goal, which earned Slovan a 1-1 draw (and 2-1 aggregate win) away to AS Roma in the final Europa League qualifying round last August. Like a lot of great moments, its significance has proved, in time, to be rather transitory. Slovan’s resulting group stage campaign brought credit, but no further glory. They have been third-best in their domestic league over the season, to the great displeasure of their supporters. Coach Vladimír Weiss has seen his own star fade in the months following the Rome game. Karim Guédé, a talismanic player, left the club over the winter. So, indeed, did Štepanovský himself. Yet his goal ensured victory over one of European football’s greatest names. As such, it deserves to be remembered. Hopefully, there’ll be more moments like it in 2012/2013.

 

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May 21 2012

MSK Zilina Champions 2012

Published by under Domestic

I’m not sure many in Slovakia noticed, given the ice-hockey team’s fantastic efforts in reaching the world championship final, so I’d better tell you myself ; Žilina are the 2011/2012 Corgoň Liga champions. Congratulations to them, and credit too to the very gallant Spartak Trnava team who pushed them all the way and ensured that maximum points from the last four fixtures were necessary to seal the title.

On Wednesday, Žilina won 2-0 at home to Nitra. Jozef Piaček supplied the sort of crisp finish not usually associated with no-nonsense centre-backs to open the scoring after 11 minutes. After that, like most recent mid-table visitors to Žilina, Nitra caused their share of problems, notably through the very tricky Seydouba Soumah. Momodou Ceesay increased his side’s nerves by missing a penalty but Róbert Pich eased them again, with a fine strike right on the stroke of half-time.

 

On Sunday, away to relegated DAC Dunajská Streda, Žilina scored their goals in the second-half. Ján Marcin unluckily deflected Miroslav Barčík’s shot into his own net after 54 minutes. Then, in the 86th minute, just 60 seconds after coming on as a substitute, Jean Deza produced a goal that would have graced far better competitions than the Corgoň Liga. He turned Arsene Copa inside-out on a run down the right before chipping exquisitely over home goalkeeper Pavel Kučera. The goal was both a fitting conclusion to Žilina’s season and, considering that not every club in Europe is offering opportunities to 18 year-old Peruvian talents, a tribute to what must be a very fine scouting system.

 

As for Trnava, they too won their last two games without conceding a goal. On Wednesday, they sent packing a Ružomberok side who had taken four points from the season’s previous two encounters between the clubs. Martin Mikovič scored the first goal with a brilliant outside-of-the-foot effort. A double from Ladislav Tomaček, including a penalty, then sealed a comfortable 3-0 victory.

 

On Sunday, 3,000 Trnava fans put aside thoughts of ice-hockey in order to travel the short distance to Nitra. Again, their team didn’t let them down. Martin Vyskočil put them ahead after 32 minutes and Ivan Schranz wrapped things up eight minutes from the end.It was always too much to hope that Žilina might choke at the last, but Trnava have nothing to reproach themselves for this season. If, as they surely will, their fans stick with them, and if the core of the side holds together, they have a great chance of ending their 40-year wait for a league title next season.

 

While the top two were giving nothing away, third-placed Slovan Bratislava’s season rather petered out. First, a 1-1 draw at home to Košice on Wednesday ended any hopes they still had of retaining their title. Juraj Halenár seemed to have put them on their way to victory with a 54th minute goal, but Kamil Karaš hit a late equaliser for the visitors from the east. Afterwards, with reference to the appallingly low crowd at Pasienky (750 was the official figure), Slovan coach Vladimír Weiss expressed his fears for the future ofSlovak football.

 

Weiss might have been better advised to stay positive and rally his men for their final match of the season, away to improving Prešov, on Sunday. Again, Halenár gave Slovan the lead, with his fifth goal in three games, but again they were pegged back by an eastern team. Matúš Marcin and Peter Petráš scored second-half goals to give Prešov a 2-1 win.

 

Senica thrashed DAC 5-1 in their final home match of the season, largely thanks to a hat-trick from Roland Blackburn. It might have been closer if Dzon Delarge hadn’t missed a penalty for the visitors with the score at 3-1. Stanislav Griga’s team then followed up with a typically solid 0-0 draw at Košice on Sunday. Besides Tomáš Strnad’s late sending-off, there were two curiosities connected with this match. First, it was the fourth successive draw Ján Kozák has overseen since his reappointment as Košice coach. Second, the attendance (just 350) was the lowest anywhere in the Corgoň Liga this season. So, while the timing of Vladimír Weiss’s comments might have been questionable, their substance, and relevance to clubs other than his own, have to be recognised.

 

It’s difficult, however, to be all doom and gloom when Trenčín are around. Adrián Guľa’s entertainers won their last two games of the season to ensure a fifth-placed finish. On Wednesday, they inflicted a 2-0 defeat on Prešov, the latter’s first reverse in six games. Four days later, they found themselves trailing Vion Zlaté Moravce 2-0, courtesy of goals from Andrej Hodek, but hit back to win 3-2. Filip Hlohovský, David Depetrisand Peter Mazan were the scorers. With their excellent young coach, and plenty of eye-catching playing talents, Trenčín will be well worth watching next season.

 

Ružomberok finished their campaign with a 2-0 win over Banská Bystrica. Pavol Masaryk cemented his place at the top of the league’s goalscoring charts by hitting his 18th of the season. After the game, Masaryk admitted that he has been struggling to focus on his own performances in recent weeks. There are off-field issues surrounding Ruža and, as club captain, Masaryk has had the difficult role of attempting to reassure team-mates anxious for their futures. The game also rounded-off Bystrica’s rather downbeat run-in. They drew 0-0 at home to Vion last Wednesday, and are parting company with coach Štefan Zaťko.

 

Six of the season’s last twelve league games attracted attendances of less than 1,000. Bearing that in mind, I have to repeat (again) that Weiss does have a point ; Slovak domestic football is struggling badly to get an audience for itself. When the national ice-hockey team is earning success on the rink, that struggle becomes ever more painful. One wonders too how viable some clubs are as full-time outfits, and how long it will be before some backers start to think seriously about pulling their money out. The close-season may provide answers to some of these questions.

 

Meanwhile, at the risk of getting readers too excited, I hope to highlight some of the Slovak game’s positive aspects later in the week, in the form of a ‘best of 2011/2012’ feature….

 

James Baxter

 

 

Results

 

32. kolo, 16.5.2012

 

INFO

Trenčín

2:0 (2:0)

Prešov

Slovan

1:1 (0:0)

Košice

Senica

5:1 (3:1)

Dunajská Streda

Žilina

2:0 (2:0)

Nitra

Trnava

3:0 (2:0)

Ružomberok

Banská Bystrica

0:0

Zlaté Moravce

33. kolo, 20.5.2012

 

INFO

Zlaté Moravce

2:3 (2:0)

Trenčín

Ružomberok

2:0 (1:0)

Banská Bystrica

Nitra

0:2 (0:1)

Trnava

Dunajská Streda

0:2 (0:0)

Žilina

Košice

0:0

Senica

Prešov

2:1 (0:1)

Slovan

 

 

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May 13 2012

Corgon Liga Round 31

Published by under Domestic

Saturday’s game at Ružomberok looked a tough assignment for Žilina. They‘d played extra-time in the cup-final in midweek and were up against a side who’d had eight days to stew over an inept defeat in their previous league game. Add an appalling playing surface, strong wind and heavy rain, and the fixture really did begin to look like one where the title could be lost. Ruža started strongly, winning a succession of corners and having a plausible penalty appeal turned down inside the first quarter of an hour. Žilina slowly came into it and, after 41 minutes, Vladimír Leitner thrashed home a loose ball following a Ricardo Nunes corner. Last week’s winner at home to Vion Zlaté Moravce was Leitner’s first Corgoň Liga goal for eight years. Now he has two in two games.

The second-half, with the wind and rain driving straight down the pitch, was unwatchably dire. The only real action of note surrounded an ongoing feud between Leitner and Pavol Masaryk following an alleged elbow by the Ruža captain. Otherwise, by winning free-kicks, playing the ball into the corners, and slowing the game down, Žilina held on reasonably comfortably. It is ironic that Frans Adelaar, appointed to introduce attractive football in the Dutch style, seems to be guiding his new team to the title by means of a series of scrappy 1-0 wins.

 

Trnava too showed their resolve, winning 2-0 at Zlaté Moravce. After having the better first-half chances, the visitors lost Roman Procházka, sent-off for two bookable offences. But a neat Martin Vyskočil header gave them the lead ten minutes into the second period, and Ladislav Tomaček added a last-minute second after home ‘keeper Martin Kuciak had strayed miles out of his area. Once again, Trnava had formidable support behind them. Citing the atmosphere created by the visiting contingent, Vion coach Juraj Jarábek says he hopes they will be rewarded by their team claiming the title. But, still two points behind Žilina with just two games remaining, the odds remain against Trnava

 

Slovan Bratislava, one point behind Trnava, were expected to have little difficulty disposing of already-relegated DAC Dunajská Streda. But Vladimír Weiss’s team seem determined these days to create problems for themselves. After a goalless first-half, DAC established a 2-0 lead within ten minutes of the restart, with goals from Dzon Delarge and Arsene Coba. After the second goal, disgruntled visiting fans began to file out of the ground. Those who heeded appeals to stay, led by striker Filip Šebo, were rewarded by a ten-minute hat-trick from Juraj Halenár. His goals, a curling free-kick, a header and a penalty, were his first of the spring. They also mean that Slovan aren’t quite out of the title race yet.

 

Senica, by contrast, are out of the race following their 1-0 defeat at Nitra. Like Žilina, Stanislav Griga’s team may still have felt Tuesday’s cup-final in their muscles. They did contribute to an entertaining-looking game, but lost to a superbly-taken goal by Ľuboš Kolár.

 

Trenčín are now in fifth place, courtesy of a 2-1 victory at Banská Bystrica. It was level going into the last ten minutes, after goals from Bystrica’s Tomáš Hučko and the visitors’ Boris Godál. Then, home defender Patrik Vajda was sent-off, and Trenčín secured the points through Peter Mazan’s tremendous long-range effort.

 

The eastern Slovak derby between Košice and Prešov ended, fairly predictably, in a 0-0 draw. Going into the fixture, Prešov’s run of 11 points from five matches had already made a mockery of their earlier relegation worries. As for Košice, with Ján Kozák back in charge, they were always going to provide durable opposition. As Kozák and Prešov coach Sergij Kovalec both acknowledged afterwards, the match was badly affected by the wind, there wasn’t much quality on display and a draw was the right result.

 

With only 850 turning up, there wasn‘t much of a derby atmosphere at Košice. Two other games – DAC v Slovan and Nitra v Senica – also attracted crowds of less than 1,000. Other than at Trnava and, to a lesser extent, Žilina, there seems to be little interest in the league’s end of season issues. But those who do care will know the identity of this season’s champions by this time next week…

 

Results

 

Ružomberok 0 Žilina 1

Zlaté Moravce 0 Trnava 2

DAC 2 Slovan 3

Nitra 1 Senica 0

Banská Bystrica 1 Trenčín 2

Košice 0 Prešov 0

 

James Baxter

 

 

    

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May 09 2012

Zilina 3-2 Senica, Cup Final

Published by under Domestic,Pohar

 

I still tend to the view that the SFZ are hopeless rather than malicious. But if they truly are on a mission to reduce interest in the final of the Slovak Cup, perhaps they should tell the competing teams to stop producing exciting matches. It was an excellent contest at Partizan Bardejov’s stadium on Tuesday, with Žilina finally winning their first ever domestic knockout trophy, 3-2 over Senica after extra-time.

 

The game had everything a final should ; two well-matched sides with contrasting styles, goals (three of which were beauties), saves and fine individual performances. The result means that Žilina’s Frans Adelaar can celebrate an honour, less than a month after his appointment as coach. Presumably, he will acknowledge that, to a large extent, he is reaping the fruits of others’ work with the team. Senica’s Stanislav Griga, meanwhile, cannot possibly fault the efforts of his players, but will be disappointed he is not going to end his club coaching career with a trophy.

 

Before 10 minutes were up, it was already 1-1. Tomáš Majtán headed Žilina in front after Peter Šulek had robbed Pedro Leal and crossed from the right. Tomáš Kóňa quickly replied with a curling 25-yard free-kick. Even by this stage, the sides were living up to stereotype. Senica were strong and physical, with Tomáš Strnad imposing himself and Jaroslav Diviš causing problems with his pace. Žilina, for their part, were trying to pass and move, mostly through captain Miroslav Barčík.

 

Barčík it was who put Žilina back in front three minutes into the second-half. He took Šulek’s pass, shuffled past a defender and thrashed the ball home from just outside the area. The goal ushered in his team’s best spell of the game, and they had chances to increase their lead. But Senica proved their durability by coming back into it again. With 18 minutes left, another wonderful strike from Kóňa made it 2-2. The winning goal, 12 minutes into the extra half-hour, was cruel on Senica. Substitute Jean Deza raced down the inside-right channel and his attempted cross deflected off Leal and looped over Peter Bolek into the net. Amidst the celebrations, there would have been relief for Majtán who, just moments earlier, had missed an open goal after a Ricardo Nunes free-kick had hit the post and rebounded straight to his feet.

 

Well done to the teams then, but what about the occasion as a whole? First of all, at least the public of Bardejov responded, buying up (according to a Partizan source) all the tickets allocated to them. It’s undeniable too that work had been done at the ground and to the pitch, which, despite heavy rain, was in acceptable condition. Even so, the surroundings were barely adequate. After their respective long journeys, Žilina and Senica fans found themselves sitting out in the open, low down and miles behind the goals. I can’t imagine they got much a view of the action. On one side of the pitch, opposite the main stand, the running-track (if that is what it was) was covered in mud and puddles. If anything, this favoured Žilina, as it meant that Strnad couldn’t generate much momentum when running up to take his long throw-ins.

 

In essence, and this is not a criticism of Partizan, or of Bardejov itself, the final should have been played elsewhere – for now, I’m sticking to my nomination of Ružomberok as a venuethat would please most partiesI’m not sure such a suggestion would cut much ice with the SFZ, however. In fact, if a press-conference given a month or so ago by president Ján Kováčik is any guide, the association appears to need a reminder of the recent history of the competition it supposedly organises. ‘It’s a long time since we’ve held a match like this in the east of Slovakia,’ said Kováčik, seemingly unaware that an eastern town (Michalovce) staged the final just two years ago. That, I’d say, pretty much backs up the charge of incompetence against him and his ‘organisation’.

 

Still, let’s try to end positively and name one or two players who could be destined for better things. For Žilina, Deza once again reminded us of his talent. He has mainly been used in short spells this spring, and clearly has a lot to learn. But, aged just 18, he also has plenty of time to learn it. Róbert Pich was a little quieter than in some recent games, but still had some good moments and is really beginning to fulfil his potential. Senica’s Kóňa was probably the best player on the pitch, however. Not only for his goals but for an almost immaculate all-round performance. Griga’s involvement with the Slovakia set-up should, rightly, ensure that he will soon get the chance to revive his international career.

James Baxter

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May 07 2012

Corgon Liga Update: Lucky Zilina

Published by under Domestic

Here’s a tip in case you’re ever stuck with a Žilina fan who’s bleating on about how luck and referees are always against his team ; ask him to account for Friday’s 1-0 win over Vion Zlaté Moravce. Vion, so depleted by injury they couldn’t fill their substitutes’ bench, could easily have had the game won by half-time. Only three remarkable saves by Martin Krnáč, together with some wayward finishing, kept Žilina in it. With 70 minutes gone, right–back Ernest Mabouka committed a reckless challenge on Vion’s Martin Husár. A red card looked inevitable but, while Husár left the ground in an ambulance, Mabouka stayed on the pitch. Five minutes later, substitute Vladimír Leitner headed Žilina’s winner from a Ricardo Nunez corner. As if indignity needed adding to misfortune, Vion then had Michal Pintér (who’d replaced Husár) and Patrik Pavlenda sent off.

 

Leitner’s goal is proof of an old footballing truth ; that teams with trophy-winning ambitions sometimes need unlikely heroes. At 37, he is the Corgoň Liga’s oldest registered player and claims to be unable to remember his last league goal. ‘It must have been at least ten years ago,’ he smiled. ‘But what’s more important is that we didn’t drop points against a very difficult Vion team.’

 

Senica were also in action on Friday night and enjoyed a gentle warm-up for Tuesday’s cup-final. They beat Ružomberok 2-0, thanks to early goals from Nicolas Gorosito and Martin Ďurica. Ruža coach Aleš Křeček found his team’s start to the game unacceptable. ‘I had a lot to say at half-time,’ he told the post-match press-conference, ‘but it was too late by then.’ His captain and top-scorer, Pavol Masaryk, was more outspoken. ‘Some younger players got a chance today and did absolutely nothing,’ he said. ‘There was no fight, no effort. Players like that don’t belong in the top division.’ Masaryk did, however, admit that the ‘tense situation’ at the club – speculation is rife that the owners are threatening to pull out – has got to all the players.

 

Senica’s win put them in second place for 24 hours, but Trnava and Slovan overtook them again on Saturday. In front of crowd of 5,328, more than double that at any of the othermatches, Trnava’s  2-0 home win over Banská Bystrica was secured with goals from Martin Vyskočil and Ladislav Tomaček.

 

As for Slovan, they beat Nitra 2-1 at Pasienky. What caught the eye here were the assists for the home side’s goals. Marko Milinković supplied a slide-rule through pass from which Karol Mészáros scored the first, and Filip Šebo created the second for Juraj Piroška with a perfectly-weighted cross. Andrej Ivančík pulled one back for Nitra, and their all-round performancepleased coach Ladislav Jurkemík, who was back on the bench after missing last week’s defeat to Prešov through illness. His Slovan counterpart, Vladimír Weiss, was in familiar downbeat mode after the game, lamenting the ‘situation surrounding the club’. Presumably, he was referring to its ongoing tenancy at a ground the fans hate, as well as declining support. The attendance at Saturday’s match (just 1,453) suggests he has a point.

 

Life is about to become a bit more interesting at Košice, as Ján Kozák Senior has returned as head coach, replacing the sacked Ladislav Šimčo. Kozák’s previous spell in charge (2005-2010) was marked by several off-field incidents, including blazing rows with opposition coaches in press-conferences and an alleged assault on Nitra’s goalkeeping coach. His first game back, away to Trenčín, went as well as could be expected, given the two sides’ recent records. Miroslav Viazanko gave Košice the lead with an extraordinary long-range effort,before Boris Godál secured a point for the hosts. There were no post-match explosions from Kozák on this occasion, simply an acknowledgement that a draw was a fair result.

 

Kozák’s good humour will not last long if his team is unable to climb above eastern Slovak rivals Tatran Prešov in the league table. On Saturday, Prešov hammered DAC Dunajská Streda 4-0. Two goals from Peter Katona and one each from Lukáš Stetina and Ján Papaj did the damage. As well as continuing the hosts’ recent good run, the result confirms the visitors’ relegation.

 

Once DAC have seen out this season – and games against Slovan, Senica and Žilina hold out little hope of consolation points – it will be interesting to see how determined they will be to regroup in II liga. My suspicion is that they will not continue in their current form. In January, there were serious doubts over whether they would complete their spring programme, and they still appear to be a woefully mismanaged club, as demonstrated by the reappointment of Werner Lorant as head coach midway through the spring. This originally entailed Krisztián Németh’s demotion to assistant coach - but then it was discovered that Lorant had failed to renew his UEFA licences and so couldn’t be head coach after all. He was hastily made director of football, a position which, as Šport pointed out, appears to involve screaming at players and fourth officials from just inside the tunnel rather than from the bench. Meanwhile, there are rumours that a group of businessmen in Dunajská Streda have lost all confidence in DAC president Khashayar Mohseni and are in talks about establishing a completely new club.

 

Hopefully, we’ll be able to make some sort of sense of the off-field problems at DAC and Ruža over the coming days and weeks. Back on the pitch, meanwhile, Žilina and Senica are off to Bardejov on Tuesday for the final of the Slovak Cup. Next weekend, all the title contenders face away fixtures, Žilina at Ruža, Trnava at Zlaté Moravce, Slovan at DAC and Senica (whose chances are more mathematical than realistic) at Nitra.

 

Results

 

Žilina 1 Zlaté Moravce 0

Senica 2 Ružomberok 0

Trnava 2 Banská Bystrica 0

Slovan 2 Nitra 1

Trenčín 1 Košice 1

Prešov 4 DAC 0

James Baxter

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May 04 2012

Another Cup Final Farce

Published by under Uncategorized

 

Here’s a good way to drum up interest in the final of the Slovak Cup. Play it on a Tuesday, in the easternmost corner of the country – an area almost inaccessible from central and western regions by public transport – with a 1230 kick-off. Once again, you just have to bow the knee to the marketing geniuses at the SFZ.

 

Any sarcasm here is not aimed at the town of Bardejov itself. Far from it ; it’s a truly beautiful place. It is also only fair to the SFZ to note that May 8th is a public holiday, and to concede that it is partly bad luck that two teams from the west of the country will contest the final. But surely the possibility of one or more of the participating sides and their followers having to make a round-trip of upwards of 750 kilometres to see the match is one the association should have been looking to avert. In any case, the far east of Slovakia (Michalovce to be precise) staged the final just two years ago. That didn’t turn out too brilliantly, as Slovan Bratislava and Trnava fans saw the occasion as a perfect opportunity to fight, not only each other, but also fellow idiots from Hungary and Ukraine. The problem in Bardejov, meanwhile, is less likely to be hooliganism than no’one turning up at all.

 

The circumstances are a shame because Senica v Žilina is a perfectly decent fixture. It pits two of Slovakia’s better teams against each other and sees Senica coach Stanislav Grigaattempting to end his time at the club with an honour before taking up his new role with the Slovak national team. What’s more, Griga is up against his hometown club, the one he started with as both player and coach.

 

Then there’s the wider history. Žilina, for all their league successes of this millenium, have never won a domestic cup competition. As Dynamo Žilina, they reached the very first final of the old Czechoslovak Cup, in 1961, but lost to Dukla Prague. The Slovak Cup, contested since 1994, has also proved beyond them. They were involved in a thrilling final last season, drawing 3-3 with Slovan after extra-time before losing on penalties. Senicas would also be a new name on the trophy, though Inter Bratislava, whom they absorbed in a merger in 2008,did win it three times, in 1995, 2000 and 2001.

 

Žilina might have you believe that the game will be a clash of styles ; their own free-flowing football against Griga’s pragmatism. But I wouldn’t be quite so certain about that. It is certainly true that Griga emphasises strength, defensive organisation and focus and it is arguable that the key players for Senica are goalkeeper Peter Bolek and holding midfielders Tomáš Strnad and Tomáš Kóňa. Strnad, who has hair to rival Robbie Savage’s and a long throw to rival Rory Delap’s, is a formidable figure, while Kóňa passes the ball accurately and takes a mean free-kick. But flair is encouraged within this framework too and, with the likes of Dutchman Stef Wijlaars, Panamanian Roland Blackburn and Costa Rican Pedro Leal in the ranks, the Senica squad has quite a multicultural feel about it.

 

Žilina’s recent appointment of Frans Adelaar, another Dutchman, was supposedly intended to get the team playing more attractive football, but it’s early days yet. The three goals they’ve scored in four games under the new coach so far (this was written before Friday’s match against Zlaté Moravce) have been headers from set-pieces. If anything, they’ve utilised the long-ball more than when Ľuboš Nosický was coach. That said, the quick and tricky Róbert Pich has been their best player in recent weeks, and you can bet that Griga will have devised plans to keep him quiet.

 

Much of the evidence points to a low-scoring affair next Tuesday. But Žilina were struggling painfully for league goals when they faced Slovan in last season’s final, yet managed to throw off the shackles. As for Senica, they’ve recently put six goals past Zlaté Moravce in two meetings, one in the cup, one in the league. Whether the game is carefree or cautious, I think the two sides will be evenly matched and we’ll see extra-time again.

 

Finishing with the vexed question of the venue, I suggest moving the cup final permanently to Ružomberok. The town is centrally located and is on the main railway line. The ends of the ground are in need of redevelopment, but there are smart modern stands along both sides. Their combined 5,000 capacity is probably enough for most pairs of finallists, which I guessgives an idea of what a modest competition the Slovak Cup is. If a Trnava v Slovan final began to look likely, Žilina’s ground, with its 11,000 capacity, could be put on standby. Meanwhile, other ways to promote the game in the east could be looked at, including, perhaps, trying to get a certificate for Michalovce to stage smaller international matches.There may well be reasonable objections to all that but I’d maintain that, as things are, the SFZ appear to be actively discouraging people from attending what should be their showpiece occasion.

James Baxter

 

 

 


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