Archive for July, 2012

Jul 11 2012

Slovak pre-season Preview

Published by under Domestic

 

I wouldn’t want anyone to gamble away their savings, but I wonder whether a little flutter on six home wins in the Corgoň Liga’s opening round of fixtures this weekend wouldn’t be a bad idea. Last season’s top five all play at home, and it’s possible to imagine Ružomberok, who seem to be pulling together following their crisis earlier in the summer, getting the better of Vion Zlaté Moravce.

 

Champions Žilina face league newcomers Spartak Myjava in Friday’s fixture. Certain factors do seem to be to Myjava’s advantage ahead of this game. They have nothing to lose, they will be backed by 400-500 travelling fans and their hosts will have half an eye on the start of their Champions League qualification campaign the following midweek. It will be a close game and Žilina will probably suffer frustration along the way. But the habit they got into last season, of winning when not performing at their best, should stand them in good stead again.

 

Trnava took last season’s championship race into the final day and will have high hopes of finally ending their 40-year wait for a title in the new campaign. Their start, at home to Košice on Saturday, looks gentle enough. As captain Miroslav Karhan commented recently, Pavel Hoftych now has a year behind him as head coach, and all the players know exactly what is expected of them, something which wasn’t quite true last July. Trnava are still in search of a quality striker, and Ján Kozák did make Košice difficult to beat towards the end of last season, but the odds on anything but a home win here will be fairly lengthy.

 

Slovan Bratislava should also get off to a good start at home to Tatran Prešov, the league’s crisis club. The off-field news surrounding Slovan has mostly been positive over the last few weeks. Coach Vladimír Weiss has signed a new one-year contract, dispelling rumours that he might be off to try his luck in Russia, last season’s top-scorer Juraj Halenár has just committed himself to three more years, and there are several interesting new signings at the club. Prešov, meanwhile, seem to go from crisis to chaos and back, via panic. In Bulgarian Angel Červenkov, they have a new head coach, but club president Miroslav Remeta has not been available to talk to the media about the appointment. He also neglected to tell the playersthey were getting a new boss ; the bewildered reactions of those interviewed for Monday evening’s TV news spoke volumes. Červenkov’s experience of working for the unpredictableVladimír Romanov at Hearts – he survived seven months as coach of the Edinburgh club in2008/2009 – might be good preparation for life in Slovakia’s wild east. But his team won’t get any points at Pasienky.

 

Senica play the second leg of their Europa League qualifying tie against MTK Budapest on Thursday (at 1-1, it is interestingly poised), so their opening league game, at home to Banská Bystrica, has been put back to Sunday. Again, it’s hard to imagine anything other than a home win. Their earlier return to competitive action should help Senica, as should the fact that new signings Pavol Masaryk and Matej Krajčík will be eligible to play. I would expect Bystrica to do better than last seasons eighth place, but their improvement won’t start until this game is out of the way.

 

Trenčín had an excellent 2011/2012, their first season back in the Corgoň Liga after a three-year absence, and they should start 2012/2013 with victory at home to Nitra, who will miss three key players through suspension. Nitra will have mixed memories of the last time they set foot on their hosts plastic pitch ; they went 1-0 up early on and were the better side throughout the first-half, yet eventually lost 5-2. Trenčín may not be quite as ruthlessly effective on Saturday, especially since two of their best attacking players, Filip Hlohovský and Lester Peltier, have moved to Slovan. But they should still be a little too strong.

Ružomberok, with their skeleton squad, are likely to find this season difficult, but Vion Zlaté Moravce at home is the kind of fixture they really need to win. Vion’s 3-1 win over Hungary’s BFC Siófok last weekend gave them the distinction of being the only Corgoň Liga side to win their final pre-season friendly. They were helped by Michal Škvarka and Adam Žilák, two players on loan from Žilina, who should continue to add youthful energy to what is a small but solid squad. This is the game which raises most doubts over a prediction of six home wins, but something tells me Ruža will just about prevail.

 

There’ll be nothing from me on these pages for the next three weeks or so, as I’m going away. I’ll conclude with my correct score predictions.

 

Žilina 1 Myjava 0

Trnava 2 Košice 0

Slovan 3 Prešov 0

Senica 2 Bystrica 0

Trenčín 2 Nitra 1

Ružomberok 2 Zlaté Moravce 1

James Baxter


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Jul 07 2012

Start of Slovak league approaching

Published by under Domestic

 

When a big summer tournament such as Euro 2012 ends, you know that the start of the Slovak league season is not far away. And so it is this year. On Friday 13th July, 12 short days after Spain’s thrashing of Italy, Žilina and Spartak Myjava will meet in the Corgoň Liga’s first game of 2012/2013.

 

In fact, one Slovak club have already tasted competitive action ; on a tropical Thursday night in the Hungarian capital, cup runners-up FK Senica drew 1-1 with MTK Budapest in the first leg of their Europa League first qualifying round tie. All things considered, this is a decent result for Senica. Two of last season’s key players, defender Nicolas Gorosito and midfield enforcer Tomáš Strnad, have left the club, and important new signing Pavol Masaryk was ineligible to play. MTK took a 30th minute lead through János Lázok but Roland Blackburn equalised in the 58th minute, shortly after the sending-off of the hosts’ Dávid Kálnoki-Kis. A later penalty miss by MTK increases Senica’s hopes of progressing to a meeting with APOEL Nicosia, last season’s Champions League quarter-finallists.  

 

MŠK Žilina look like they will go into the new season relying on the players who won the double last season, plus some who are returning from loans and a couple of youngsters promoted from the youth sections. Defender Ali Ceesay and Jakub Paur, a midfielder who impressed for Vion Zlaté Moravce in 2011/2012, look the most interesting of the returnees, while Milan Škriniar and Miroslav Kačer will hope to bridge the gap between the youth and reserve teams and the full side. Retaining the services of the likes of Jozef Piaček, Ricardo Nunes, Viktor Pečovský and Róbert Pich is at least as important as any new signings, though, with Tomáš Majtán currently recovering from an operation, the side looks a little light in the striking department. Time for Momodou Ceesay, Ali’s older brother, to find some consistency at last, one feels.

 

As coach Pavel Hoftych has admitted, Spartak Trnava are another side who could use a striker or two, though they have signed the Algerian-born Samy Derras from Spanish second-tier club Lorca Atléticoand are trying him up-front in some friendly games. Defender Marek Janečka, formerly of Zlaté Moravce, should be a good addition to the squad but Roman Procházka, who has signed for Levski Sofia, will be missed in midfield. Just like last season, Miroslav Karhan is sure to be a key player for Trnava ; he scored the first goal in Wednesday’s 4-1 friendly win over Dubnica.

 

Slovan Bratislava’s approach to the new campaign is the opposite to Žilina’s, in that they are signing players left, right and centre. Gorosito looks a good addition, as does Lester Peltier, who, together with Filip Hlohovský (Slovan’s first summer signing), helped form Trenčín’s exciting attack last season. Vladimír Weiss will certainly be hoping that those he’s bringing in now will do rather better than his winter acquisitions. Two of those, Ondřej Smetana (who started the spring well before fading) and the permanently injured Mario Pečalka, have come to the end of loan spells. Juraj Piroška, another who’s suffered with injury, and the under-achieving Kamil Kopúnek are still at the club. They need to start showing what they are capable of.

 

As for the rest of the league, some clubs look to be in a decent state, while others are lurching dangerously through crises. Trenčín, Zlaté Moravce and Nitra are probably in the former category, though, following the departures of Peltier and Hlohovský, Trenčín will need to find new ways to both score goals and supply striker David Depetris with chances. Vion faded badly towards the end of last season, a consequence of the smallness of their squad, but they still seem to be the most ‘together’ top-flight outfit in Slovakia and have, so far, retained most of their key players. Nitra have just sold defender Martin Tóth to Czech champions Slovan Liberec but their friendly results have been encouraging, not least the most recent, a 1-0 victory over Sigma Olomouc.

 

Ružomberok and Prešov are the league’s crisis clubs, though Ruža have at least seen sense and allowed players such as Tomáš Ďubek to rejoin the team’s preparations, having informed them in early June that they were to train individually. The side have played some interesting friendlies against sides such as First Vienna and Honvéd, though with mixed results. Certainly, given the summer upheavals at the club (covered in an article in May), new coach Ladislav Šimčo will need all his man-management skills to emulate the mid-table finish Ruža achieved last season. His admission that he barely slept in the days following his appointment certainly shows that he cares.

 

Prešov are, if anything, in an even more uncertain state. Following the departure of their majority shareholders in May, they have reached an in principle’ agreement with a Ukrainian sponsor. But this depends on a firm commitment from the Prešov local authority to continue to fund the club’s youth development programme and this – at the time of writing – has not been given. The players started their pre-season preparations later than those at other Corgoň Liga clubs, and without coach Sergej Kovalec, who was waiting for news of whether his contract would be renewed. No training camps were planned and the organisation of friendly games was, let’s say, somewhat hasty. The three played so far have all been won, though, so perhaps there’s hope after all.

 

Banská Bystrica have become the first club from outside Bohemia and Moravia to win Czech football’s oldest tournament, the 79 year-old Perleťový Pohár. They defeated Dukla Praha and Viktoria Žižkov, who had also been invited to take part by hosts and founders FC Slavoj Žirovnice. Meanwhile, Bystrica defender Norbert Gyömbér is having an extended trial with Bundesliga side Wolfsburg, having apparently impressed coach Felix Magath.

 

Things are fairly quiet on the transfer front at MFK Košice, who faced decent opposition (including Rapid Bucharest and APOEL Nicosia) during a recent training-camp in Austria. As with Žilina, it seems that coach Ján Kozák is putting his faith partly in youngsters. Kozák’s own presence in the dug-out should ensure Košice do rather better in 2012/2013 than they did last season, when only the comical ineptitude of DAC Dunajská Streda kept them at a safe distance from a relegation scrap.

 

Myjava will be an interesting addition to the Corgoň Liga this season, partly because they have never played at this level before and partly because they will not be operating on a fully professional basis ; some players will have day jobs and train just twice a week. However, their stadium reconstruction is coming along nicely, modest in scale though it is, and their squad does contain some highly experienced players, such as ex-Žilina captain Zdeno Štrba (who played for Slovakia in the World Cup just two years ago) and Peter Kuračka, formerly of Vion and Trnava. It would be unrealistic to expect Myjava to do what Trenčín did last season, but they should have enough about them to survive.

 

Having mentioned DAC, it is only right to say that, in defiance of an earlier prediction of mine, they will take their place in the II liga after all. Their coach will once again be Mikuláš Radványi, who left in 2011 to take over at Senec before moving on to Komarno. Their first fixture, on July 21st (the II liga kicks off a week later than the Corgoň Liga), is against Šamorín, a side coming up from the third tier. Finally, as if to prove that there was more to DAC last season than pure hopelessness, Dzon Delarge, their top goalscorer, is another who’s joining Liberec.

James Baxter

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