Archive for August, 2012

Aug 26 2012

Corgon Liga Update 26-August

Published by under Domestic

Žilina’s draw with Trnava on Tuesday left Slovan Bratislava a point clear at the top of the Corgoň Liga going into the weekend’s matches. Slovan’s lead is now two points, but they will probably be irritated by their failure to win an entertaining contest away to Trenčín. The game really came to life in the couple of minutes just before half-time. David Depetris scored his eighth goal of the season for the hosts, following excellent build-up play by Ivan Diaz and Jakub Holúbek. Seconds later, teenager Stanislav Lobotka was shown a red card for dragging down Marko Milinković inside the penalty-area and Filip Šebo equalised from the spot.

Mid-way through the second-half, another foul on Milinković led to Slovan taking the lead. This time the offence occurred just outside the box and it was the Serbian midfielder himself who curled the ball past ‘keeper Miloš Volešák. Trenčín’s ten men kept going and Depetris earned them a point with a penalty after Filip Hlohovský had hauled down Peter Čögley. To his credit, Slovan coach Samuel Slovák did not question the award of Trenčín’s penalty, even though contact appeared, at least from the TV pictures, to be made outside the box rather than inside.

The sides just below Slovan also failed to win. Žilina produced an apathetic-looking performance away to Vion Zlaté Moravce and were beaten 1-0. The only goal was scored by Michal Škvarka, a player Vion signed on loan from their visitors during the close-season. Afterwards, both coaches talked about preparation ; Vion’s Juraj Jarábek was happy with the way his team was ‘100% prepared’, while opposite number Frans Adelaar noted that ‘although we always talk about the importance of being properly prepared, 70% of my players were unfocused and seemed to think the game was going to be easy’.

Ružomberok would have drawn level on points with Slovan if they’d been able to overcome visitors Trnava. In fact, a 2-2 draw is not a bad result, considering that Ruža played 70 minutes with ten men and finished with only nine. All the goals arrived in the first-half. Patrik Gross diverted Filip Serečin’s cross into his own net to put the hosts ahead, only for Miroslav Karhan to equalise with a direct free-kick, awarded for a foul by Peter Maslo on Vlastimil Stožický for which the Ruža defender was sent off. On 27 minutes, Jiří Koubský brought down Mulumba Mukendi and Tomáš Ďubek’s penalty put the ten men ahead again. Back came Trnava, and Stevo Nikolič seized on a rebound, after his own header had been blocked, to complete the scoring. That wasn’t the end of the action, though ; both sides had chances to win the game in an up-and-down second period. In the final minute, Mukendi was shown a straight red card for a clumsy high challenge on Patrik Čarnota.

Passions were still running high in the post-match interviews. ‘I’m still emotional so it’s best if I don’t comment on the referee,’ said Ďubek. His coach, Ladislav Šimčo, was less circumspect when, referring to the fouls by Maslo and Koubský, he claimed that ‘our player was sent-off and theirs wasn’t, even though the offences were similar’. Trnava are now bottom of the league and are the only side without a win. ‘We need to improve,’ said Karhan.

Banská Bystrica, another side who could have joined Slovan on 14 points, were involved in a frustrating 0-0 draw with a Prešov team which is beginning to earn a reputation as a bunch of spoilers. There were few real chances. Bystrica’s Jozef Rejdovian hit the post with a header and there were a couple of frantic scrambles in the visitors’ penalty-area but, as home coach Norbert Hrnčár pointed out, ‘it’s hard to create chances when they put ten players in their own box and there’s no space’. Prešov aren’t apologising to anyone. This is their first away point of the season and, together with their 100% home record, the result sees them occupying a comfortable mid-table position.

Košice need to rediscover some resiliance following a 4-1 hammering at Nitra. Curiously, all the goals in this game came when Nitrawere down to ten men following the 35th minute sending-off of Miloš Šimončič. Seydouba Soumah put Nitra ahead on the stroke of half-time, and David Škutka’s 53rd minute equaliser was merely the prelude to a period of dominance which saw Martin Boszorád and Cléber Silva Nasciemento (twice) add further goals.Nitra coach Ladislav Jurkemík said this was the first time a team of his had ever won after going a man down. He also noted that Košice were ‘more dangerous when we had eleven players’. His visiting counterpart, Ján Kozák, is no doubt saving long speeches for the training-ground. ‘It was chaotic and we deserved to lose,’ was all he would say to the press.

But perhaps the real story of the weekend is Myjava’s first ever Corgoň Liga victory, achieved on Friday night away to local rivals Senica. The game was almost the mirror-image of the newly-promoted team’s defeat by Banská Bystrica last week, where they had most of the play and chances only to lose to a late goal. Here, Roland Blackburn missed three good opportunities for Senica and his team paid the price when, in the 79th minute, Martin Černáček converted Peter Sládek’s right-wing cross.

Černáček, as one of Myjava’s part-time players, trains three times a week. He is also a manager of a firm which produces home fittings, and typically works ten-hour days, often travelling away on business. ‘It’s not easy to prepare for games,’ he says, ‘but I’m managing all right so far.’ Myjava remain second from bottom of the league but their performances have mostly been quite creditable so far. If results also continue to improve, their way of doing things may well be of some appeal to other smallish clubs. Meanwhile their fans, 700 of whom made the journey to Senica, are keeping up their encouragement.

Trenčín 2 Slovan 2

Zlaté Moravce 1 Žilina 0

Ružomberok 2 Trnava 2

Banská Bystrica 0 Prešov 0

Nitra 4 Košice 1

Senica 0 Myjava 1

 

James Baxter

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Aug 22 2012

Slovakia Persist with Pasienky

Published by under International

I’ve got my ticket for the Slovakia v Latvia World Cup qualifier on October 12th. If you want to join me, you’d better act fast to avoid the rush. Actually, the point of this is less to advertise the attractions of Slovakia v Latvia than to explain why this is the only one of Slovakia’s three home autumn qualifiers I’m going to.

Essentially, the reason is that the Lichtenstein, Latvia and Greece games are all to be played at Pasienky (in Bratislava) and I refuse to make more than one six-hour round-trip to visit that sorry excuse for a football stadium, especially when the perfectly decent, and big-game proven, MŠK Žilina ground is just a ten-minute bus ride from my house.

I should say here that, while there are people who have had genuinely bad experiences at Pasienky (ask Stuttgart or Paris St Germain fans), I’m not one of them. I’ve been there four times, once to see Slovakia in a pre-World Cup friendly against Costa Rica and three times to see Slovan. The worst thing that’s happened to me on any of those trips was a late Filip Šebo winner for Slovan against Zlaté Moravce in April 2011 which helped put the skids under Žilina’s Corgoň Liga title challenge. Otherwise, I’ve always been among friends, the welcome has been friendly and the food (try the chicken steaks) has been first-rate. At the Slovan v Salzburg Europa League game last December, we were even sold hot wine, just the thing for a cold mid-winter night. As warming as the drink was the serving-girl’s enigmatic smile as she claimed not to have heard about UEFA’s alcohol regulations.

But another important reason I’ve always left Pasienky in at least an equable mood is that the weather’s always been good. Even the night of the Salzburg game was dry. If it rains, however, the place must become a genuine hell-hole. It has around 11,500 seats, all of them miles from the pitch. 10,000 of these are uncovered and I’m convinced that even the 1,500 or so non-VIPs in the main stand aren’t totally sheltered from the elements ; the structure is ageing and there must be leaks in that roof.

Finding people who actively like Pasienky is hard. Those who’ve only been once or, like me, have only been in dry weather might say it has ‘character’. It does, but so does my in-laws’ garden and no’one is suggesting that would be a good place to stage international football.  Inter Bratislava, who used to call Pasienky home, struggled to draw big crowds there, even when they were winning championships. As for Slovan, the current tenants, their fans hate the place with a passion. Players never have a good word to say about the ground either, hardly surprisingly considering that they have to make a long trek across an athletics track to get from dressing-room to pitch and back, that the surface is bumpy and cuts up and that, even on the rare occasions when there is a good crowd in, there is very little atmosphere.

So why are Slovakia playing there? We all know that the country has no national stadium at present but Žilina would be a more suitable venue for theLatviaandGreecegames, while Michalovce, a smaller but well-appointed ground in the east of the country, could probably have managed the Lichtenstein fixture. I suspect (and I stress that I have no verification of this) that Pasienky is being used because it is not owned by a club and thus the SFZ get to hire it on the cheap, an important consideration given their well-publicised financial problems.

Another reason, though this would be universally denied, may be that Pasienky has been a curiously lucky venue for Slovakia in the past, while Žilina has brought almost no luck at all. In Euro 2012 qualifying, the home team gained maximum points from its two Pasienky fixtures (against Macedonia and Andorra), compared with a damaging record of one point from three games in Žilina, where Ireland, Armenia and Russia were the opponents. Of course, these records could be put down simply to the relative abilities of the teams concerned. Even so, I have a sense that Armenia and Russiain particular might have found life harder at Pasienky, if only because primitive playing conditions can have subtly deflating effects on good sportsmen, and on visitors more than hosts. It will be interesting to put this theory to the test whenGreece, the best of the three sidesSlovakiaare about to face, are in town.

But a European nation that took part in the last World Cup finals should not be using sub-standard facilities to defeat the opposition, it should be hosting them at shiny, appropriately-sized stadiums. The people who pay good money to come along and support should not have to pack their binoculars so that they’ll be able to see the pitch, nor should they have to worry about catching pneumonia. They should be able to concentrate on creating a decent atmosphere. If and when Slovakia finally gets a ground like this in Bratislava, I will happily go to as many games as I can there. Until then, though, let’s just stop embarrassing ourselves. Let’s give up on Pasienky.

James Baxter

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Aug 20 2012

Corgon Liga Round-up

Published by under Uncategorized

We’ll start at the bottom of the Corgoň Liga, where concerns are deepening at Trnava. During the week, the SFZ disciplinary committee decreed that Miroslav Karhan must give up the club captaincy until the spring after he kicked a TV microphone following last Sunday’s 3-0 defeat at Senica. At the same time, co-owner Vladimír Poor was compelled to insist that coach Pavel Hoftych’s job was not under threat. At least a Saturday visit from inconsistent Trenčín looked like the ideal opportunity for Hoftych’s side to finally get their league season up and running. Instead, Trenčín strolled to a 3-0 win, courtesy of goals from Jakub Holúbek, Samuel Štefaník and David Depetris. Hoftych made no excuses afterwards, admitting that Trnava are in an ‘unpleasant, difficult situation’. As for Trenčin, a betting man’s nightmare, their game at home to Slovan Bratislava next Saturday should be worth seeing.

Trnava have company at the foot of the table in the shape of Spartak Myjava, who lost 1-0 at home to Banská Bystrica. Myjava, who had most of the play and chances, were especially unlucky in the 42nd minute, when Bystrica ‘keeper Peter Boroš somehow changed direction to turn aside Martin Černáček’s header. Six minutes from full-time, substitute Martin Pančík ran onto Radoslav Augustín’s pass and finished emphatically to give the visitors the points. Their coach, Norbert Hrnčár, expressed his relief afterwards, pointing out that three of his players had been on Under-21 duty inKievduring the week. He was also full of praise for Myjava’s ground redevelopment. ‘This place shows it is possible to create good surroundings for football inSlovakia,’ he said.

Eastern Slovakia’s two top-flight clubs both maintained their 100% home records at the weekend. Košice effectively decided their match with Vion Zlaté Moravce in three minutes just after the hour mark, when Dávid Škutka and Peter Šinglar both scored. Vion did reply, through Ľubomír Bernáth in the 77th minute, but coach Juraj Jarábek wasn’t fooled into thinking they deserved better than defeat. ‘We only started playing in the last 20 minutes,’ he said. He also had harsh words for referee Horváth ; ‘Košice didn’t need him to help them. Perhaps he just doesn’t know what he’s doing.’ The disciplinary committee will be gathering again this week….

Nitra’s Ladislav Jurkemík was another coach making the long trek west in a bad mood after his team were beaten 1-0 at Prešov. The decisive goal, after 40 minutes, was a rather freakish affair, Miloš Šimončič deflecting Marián Adam’s cross into his own net. ‘It wasn’t a good game,’ complained Jurkemík, ‘Prešov scored a lucky goal, then they just defended and kept breaking up the play.’ His opposite number, Angel Červenkov, was naturally happier, praising his team for their ‘character and fight’.

Champions Žilina were obviously expected to be among the sides contesting top place from the start of the season, but the same could not be said about Ružomberok, their Saturday visitors. As it turned out, though, Ruža’s disciplined defensive performance in a 0-0 draw suggested they’re not ready to start plummeting down the table just yet. While it was a fine team effort from them, their captain, Tomáš Ďubek, deserves special mention. Not only did he play with skill and good sense in central midfield, he was constantly instructing and encouraging his team-mates. The effect was such that coach Ladislav Šimčo, in contrast to the agitated figures who normally inhabit the ‘technical area’, didn’t feel the need to rise from his bench until the game entered the last ten minutes. As for Žilina, they sent on Miroslav Kačer, a midfielder who only turned16 inJune, for the second-half, and he came as close as anyone to conjuring up a goal when his long-range shot took a deflection and spun millimetres wide of the right-hand post. Reflecting their good start to the season was Ruža’s away following,  easily the largest they’ve had at Žilina since spring 2006, when the team was closing in on the league title. Long may the fans‘ enthusiasm continue.

The draw at Žilina gave Slovan the chance to take a two-point lead at the top when they entertained Senica in the Sunday fixture. Slovan duly won 1-0, thanks to defender Kristian Kolčák’s 39th minute header from a Filip Hlohovský corner. Senica had most of the play after half-time but were unable to break down the stubborn home defence. Žilina play their game in hand on Tuesday (at home to Trnava) so Slovan may be knocked off their perch within 48 hours. Still, Samuel Slovák will be pleased with the three successive victories claimed since he took charge of the team. He will also feel that there are better performances still to come once he’s found the best way to blend the various talents at his disposal.

Trnava 0 Trenčín 3

Myjava 0 Banská Bystrica 1

Košice 2 Zlaté Moravce 1

Prešov 1 Nitra 0

Žilina 0 Ružomberok 0

Slovan 1 Senica 0

 

James Baxter

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Aug 17 2012

Denmark 1-3 Slovakia

Published by under International

 

A little late but I thought I’d offer one or two reflections on Slovakia’s 3-1 victory over Denmark in Odense on Wednesday. Those interested enough to be reading will probably know the details of the match ; Slovakia were 1-0 down at half-time, to Jakob Mikkelsen’s goal, but came back in the second period thanks to strikes from Martin Jakubko, Marek Hamšík and Ľubomír Guldan.

 

The result looks excellent but, as joint coach Stanislav Griga has been quick to remind us, not too much heed should be paid to it. Slovakia were totally outplayed in that first half and couldn’t have complained if they’d gone in at the break three or four goals down. Ironically enough, the goal they did concede was unfortunate. Tomáš Hubočan’s attempted clearance bounced off Jakob Mikkelsen in such a way that the forward found himself one on one with Ján Mucha. He finished without fuss.

 

One point Griga rightly emphasised was that Denmark were weakened by their half-time substitutions. In a competitive game, they would never have taken their foot off their opponent’s throat in such a way. It should also be said, however, that Slovakia were much improved after the break, from a side ‘lacking movement and aggression’ (Griga’s words)into one that at least started getting the basics right. One noticeable change was in the ‘pressing’ game. Whereas the Danes’ defensive players were easily able to move the ball forward in the first-half, in the second they were quickly closed down by Slovak attackers.

 

Then there were the substitutions made by Griga and Hipp themselves. The introductions of Viktor Pečovský (for Juraj Kucka), Michal Ďuriš (for Vladimír Weiss) and, fifteen minutes after half-time, of Jakubko for Marek Bakoš all improved the team’s game. Pečovský, a predominantly defensive midfielder, helped the balance of the side. By patrolling the area in front of his defence and keeping things simple, he gave Marek Sapara the confidence he needed to concentrate on creativity. Ďuriš was more direct than the tricky but often frustrating Weiss, while Jakubko offered a slightly more intimidating physical presence up front than Bakoš.

 

The goals were simple but well-worked. Seconds after he came on, Jakubko muscled his way towards the near post to head home Sapara’s free-kick for the first. Miroslav Stoch played a one-two with Martin Škrtel and crossed for Hamšík to head in the second, and Guldan (on as a late sub for Hamšík) touched in another Sapara cross to round things off.

 

What were the individual positives and negativesPečovský can be delighted with his international debut, as can Ďuriš, while Jakubko’s return was clearly a success. Hamšík was decent enough in the first-half, the team’s few forays forward coming through him, and got better after the break. Lukáš Pauschek, another debutant, who played the full 90 minutes at left-back, also did well. He will probably not be first-choice when the likes of Radoslav Zabavník and Dušan Švento return but offers good cover in his position and looks like an international player of the future. The best player, though, was probably Sapara. Besides setting up two of the goals, he linked defence and attack superbly in the second-half.

 

The main concern surrounds Kucka. The starting selection, which didn’t include a defensive midfielder, may not have helped him. He and Sapara sometimes seemed unsure which of them should go forward and which would stay back. But, whereas Sapara was reliable with his passing, even when the team as a whole wasn’t functioning, Kucka seemed to be trying too hard to make things happen, and often gave the ball away. He also concedes too many needless free-kicks. Weiss too was prone to his old habit of not knowing when to pass and when to take his man on.

 

The win will be welcome ahead of the start of World Cup qualification, as will the goals – the first to be scored under the Griga and Hipp regime. Perhaps the most heartening thought, though, is that the coaches are not men to be seduced by flattering scorelines. They will not let their players get away with the kind of performance they produced in the first 45 minutes in Odense.

James Baxter

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Aug 13 2012

Trenčín v Žilina

Published by under Uncategorized

Trenčín v Žilina was the game I was looking forward to most when the Corgoň Liga fixtures were announced in June. One reason is that Trenčín’s ground, though distinctly shabby, has one of the most spectacular backdrops football can offer, in the shape of the town’s mighty castle. When you go there, it’s fun to alter history by seven centuries or so and imagine Matúš Čák, once the overlord of this region, analysing the tactics from the windows of his fortress. No plastic pitch in Čák’s day, though(!) The other thing is that Trenčín and Žilina were the league’s two most attractive teams last season. Two of the games between them resulted in thrilling, high-scoring draws. 

In a sense, Saturday’s meeting was a slight anti-climax. The unexpectedly cold, wet weather meant a seat in the main stand, the ground’s only covered section, was the most sensible option. The problem with that is that, while you don’t get rained on, the castle is less prominent than from the opposite side. Also, the Trenčín team aren’t quite what they were just six months ago. They still attempt to play a dynamic 4-3-3 formation, they still have the diminutive Aldo Omar Baez scuttling around just in front of the back four and David Depetris, as close as the Slovak league gets to a classical centre-forward, still leads the attack. But the departures of Paraguayan playmaker Jorge Salinas and wide attackers Filip Hlohovský and Lester Peltier have left them with something of a creative void.

The first-half was a quiet affair, though Depetris was unlucky to hit the inside of the post following an indirect free-kick on the six-yard line. Nine minutes into the second-half, a brilliant passage of play from Žilina’s Togolese centre-back Serge Akakpo saw his side take the lead. First, he snuffed out a home attack on the edge of his own penalty-area. Then, he raced up to the edge of the Trenčín box to meet Róbert Pich’s pass with a sweet left-footed shot. Fifteen minutes later, Bruno Guima lobbed the home ‘keeper to ensure the continuation of Žilina’s unbeaten start to the season. Before we leave this game, a question for any plastic pitch experts who might be reading ; why is it necessary to spray jets of water onto such a surface when it’s been raining for much of the day?

Trenčín coach Adrián Guľa could be forgiven a wistful glance towards Bratislava, where Peltier and Hlohovský are settling in well for Slovan. Hlohovský it was who scored both goals as a battling Spartak Myjava side were overcome at Pasienky. Slovan seem determined to make life awkward for themselves ; in the 82nd minute, just two minutes after going 2-0 up, their defence somehow allowed Peter Kuračka’s free-kick to slip through and into the net. Still, everyone seemed happy enough afterwards. Samuel Slovák, Slovan’s temporary coach, welcomed the side’s second successive win since he took charge, while Myjava coach Ladislav Hudec admitted that he’d feared a heavier defeat. You sense that Myjava need that first victory to come soon, though. Perhaps next week, when they face Banská Bystrica at home?

Košice goalkeeper Darko Tofiloski is an unpredictable figure. One week his miraculous saves are the difference between a positive result and a severe beating, the next he loses his team the game. Saturday, away to Ružomberok, was one of his off-days. After 15 minutes, his rush from his line was in vain as Lukáš Lupták rounded him to put Ruža ahead. Another quarter of an hour later, he lashed an attempted clearance straight at the onrushing Mulumba Mukendi and the ball bounced behind him into the net. Ján Novák pulled a goal back for Košice, but Tomáš Ďubek wrapped up the points for the home side with a vicious shot from just outside the box which, even on a good day, Tofiloski couldn’t have done a thing about.

Prešov’s Jakub Diviš is another goalkeeper who’ll be keen to banish memories of this weekend. He got nowhere near the right-wing corner from which Andrej Hodek headed Vion Zlaté Moravce’s first goal, and looked somewhat disorientated as Adam Žilák touched home the second from an inswinging free-kick. The win, Vion’s first of the season, moves them up to ninth place, just one point behind their opponents. Prešov coach Angel Červenkov was unhappy with the performance of his entire team. ‘Sides that don’t put their heart into the game have no chance of winning,’ he said.

Nitraand Banská Bystrica both had seven points from four matches going into their encounter on Saturday, so it was perhaps inevitable that they would cancel each other out. Jakub Brašeň gave Bystrica a 26th minute lead only for Seydouba Soumah to equalise ten minutes later. That was the end of the scoring, though both coaches later claimed that their side could have emerged victorious.

Slow starters Senica and Trnava met in the Sunday fixture and it was Senica who gave their season some impetus with a 3-0 victory. Tomáš Kóňa, Jaroslav Diviš and Pavol Masaryk (with a penalty) were the scorers, and Trnava’s misery was compounded by the sending-off of Mario Bicák for two bookable offences. Senica coach Zdeněk Psotka said afterwards that he’d been trying to get his team to simplify their game by playing more directly than in previous matches. Trnava’s Pavel Hoftych, meanwhile, faces the task of lifting his side before the likes of Žilina and Slovan get too far ahead of them. He has overcome previous crises well enough, notably when dealing with the fall-out from Issa Koro-Kone’s acrimonious move to Dijon last autumn, so you would hope he is afforded patience by the club’s bosses now.

James Baxter

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Aug 11 2012

Slovakia’s clubs’ European dreams over in early August

Published by under European

Slovakia has no clubs left in European competition this season following Spartak Trnava’s 3-0 defeat at home to Steaua Bucharest in the Europa League 3rd qualifying round on Thursday night. A 1-0 win in the first leg in Romania had raised hopes that Trnava might extend their interest into the play-off round, but Adi Rocha’s 8th minute goal cancelled out their advantage. Headers from Raul Rusescu and Stefan Nikolič, in the 77th and 83rd minutes respectively, secured Steaua’s aggregate victory. There seems to be some dispute about whether the first goal, the second goal, or an injury to defensive kingpin Peter Čvirik was the real turning-point of the evening but no’one in the Trnava camp is denying that Steaua were the better team over the two legs. ‘Our miracle couldn’t last for two matches,’ said coach Pavel Hoftych. ‘European football is ahead of ours,’ added captain Miroslav Karhan. 

Obviously, the biggest disappointment will be felt by Trnava themselves, and their fans. With a crowd of almost 14,000, a relatively small away following and parts of the Štadión Antona Malatinského closed for security reasons, the home sections must have been sold out for the second leg. Steaua coach Laurentiu Reghecampf even admitted that he’d found the pre-match atmosphere ‘scary’. If Trnava had progressed as far as the group stages, you shudder to think what sort of noise their supporters might have created. 

There will also be people seizing on this result, and the earlier European defeats suffered byŽilina, Senica and Slovan Bratislava, as proof of what a desperate state Slovak football is in.In some ways, they will be over-reacting. Žilina were given as tough a draw as it’s possible to get in the first round of Champions League qualifying, in the shape of Israeli champions Hapoel Ironi Kirjat Shmona. As for the Europa League, Senica’s defeat to last season’s Champions League quarter-finalists APOEL Nicosia in the 2nd qualifying round was to be expected, Slovan were unfortunate to lose to Videoton on away goals at the same stage - the Hungarians then showed their quality by thrashing Belgian side KAA Ghent – while Trnava’s loss to Steaua can hardly be regarded as a disgrace given the latter’s history of European success.

We should also remember that, less than a year ago, Slovan beat AS Roma to reach the Europa League group stage.  A year earlier, Žilina were mixing it with the likes of Chelsea in the Champions League. These achievements were almost supplemented by Trnava (last season) and Slovan (2010/2011), both of whom lost narrowly at the Europa League’s play-off stage. All that said, perhaps the most telling quote from the interviews after the Steaua game came from the Trnava player who noted that the Romanians ‘had three chances and scored three goals’. That is not bad luck or injustice, it is what football at the higher levels is all about. Unfortunately, the best Slovak teams are not exposed to this sort of quality on a regular enough basis in their domestic league.

One game from last spring, Žilina v Zlaté Moravce, summed the problem up perfectly. Žilina, looking half-asleep at times, were totally outplayed for 45 minutes. Zlaté Moravce had three clear opportunities to score, but missed them all. They then retreated into defence in the second-half and a 38 year-old substitute defender won the game for Žilina, who, of course, went on to claim the title. It was less an example of how good sides win when not playing well than of getting away with it because the opposition lacked the quality and winning mentality to punish sloppiness. 

It’s easy to observe that the Corgoň Liga lacks quality, but far harder to see how it could improve. Occasionally, it does provide proper footballing occasions involving two decent sides who don’t give each other an inch. If there were more contests like April’s Žilina v Trnava game, or last Sunday’s between Trnava and Slovan, for example, Slovak teams might find themselves a little better prepared when they come up against good foreign opposition. It’s sad to reflect that it will now be eleven months until any of the clubs here get the chance again.

James Baxter

 

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Aug 07 2012

Slovakia Squad for Denmark

Published by under International

Below is the squad chosen by Slovakia’s joint coaches Stanislav Griga and Michal Hipp for the friendly away to Denmark, in Odense next Wednesday (August 15th).

Squad

GOALKEEPERS: Ján Mucha (FC Everton), Dušan Perniš (Pogoň Štetín), Dušan Kuciak (Legia Varšava)

DEFENDERS: Peter Pekarík (VfL Wolfsburg), Kornel Saláta (FK Rostov), Tomáš Hubočan (Zenit Petrohrad), Martin Škrtel (FC Liverpool), Lukáš Pauschek (Slovan Bratislava), Radoslav Zabavník (1. FSV Mainz 05)

MIDFIELDERS: Juraj Kucka (FC Janov), Michal Breznaník (Slovan Liberec), Marek Hamšík (SSC Neapol), Vladimír Weiss ml. (Delfino Pescara), Miroslav Stoch (Fenerbahce Istanbul), Róbert Mak (1. FC Norimberg), Viktor Pečovský (MŠK Žilina), Ľubomír Guldan (Ludogorec Razgrad), Marek Sapara (Trabazonspor AS)

FORWARDS: Marek Bakoš (Viktoria Plzeň), Martin Jakubko (FC Amkar Perm)

Reserves

GOALKEEPERS: Marián Kelemen (Slask Wroclaw), Marián Kello

DEFENDERS: Ľubomír Michalík (Carlisle United), Jozef Piaček (MŠK Žilina), Ján Ďurica (Lokomotiv Moskva)

MIDFIELDERS: Tomáš Hučko (Dukla Banská Bystrica), Tomáš Kóňa (FK Senica), Kamil Kopúnek (Slovan Bratislava), Roman Procházka (PFC Levski Sofia), Karim Guédé (SC Freiburg)

FORWARDS: Michal Ďuriš (Viktoria Plzeň), Ivan Lietava (FC Vorskla Poltava), Stanislav Šesták (Bursaspor), Erik Jendrišek (SC Freiburg), Filip Hološko (Besiktas Istanbul)

There are obviously several observations you could make about these selections. There are three newcomers to the squad ; Pauschek, Mak and Pečovský. The first two are getting their chance partly because they have been two of the best performers, and biggest personalities, in the Under-21 team. It is possible, however, that Pauschek would have had to wait a little longer were it not for injuries to two other left-backs, Marek Čech and Dušan Švento. Even Radoslav Zabavník, who has made the squad and can play at left-back, is said to be carrying a knock. Griga and Hipp will be consulting with Mainz during the next few days over whether or not he should play. Mak, an exciting attacking player has been carefully managed by Nuremberg and this looks a good time to see what he might do at senior international level.

Pečovský’s nomination is a reward for his outstanding form for Žilina over the last year. As always, there is a question mark over whether someone who has only played league football in Slovakia will cope with the international game. Still, as Griga points out, Pečovský was one Žilina player who didn’t disappoint during his side’s Champions League defeat to Hapoel Ironi Kirjat Shmona last month. It is also true that Slovakia are looking for the right man to play the holding midfield role. It is debatable whether Pečovský will emerge as the outstanding candidate but he is at least another alternative.

The biggest surprise is the return of Martin Jakubko, who announced his international retirement following the 2010 World Cup. He had an excellent spell for Banská Bystrica last autumn and then signed for Russian club Amkar Perm, where he continues to perform well. Griga reveals that Hipp has been in regular contact with the striker over a possible comeback. Jakubko is 32 now, but, with his ability to play with his back to goal and occupy defenders, he may have a decent couple of years left in him.

Some prominent names are missing from the main squad, notably Karim Guédé, Stanislav Šesták, Erik Jendrišek and Filip Hološko. The omission of the last three, all forwards, is all the evidence you need to know that Slovakia have been struggling painfully for goals for some time now. Guédé has not convinced in his international career to date but he finished last season in decent form for Bundesliga side Freiburg, and his chance will surely come again. The players I would consider most unfortunate to be left out are Roman Procházka and Tomáš Kóňa, both of whom had decent games as substitutes in the last friendly, away to Holland in May. It could be that Procházka is being given a break to adjust to his recent move to Levski Sofia. Meanwhile, Kóňa’s club, Senica, have endured a difficult start to this season, though his own form seems to be holding up reasonably well.

Griga, Hipp and SFZ can hardly be accused of giving their players an easy schedule of friendlies. Since the last game in the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign,Slovakia have faced Turkey and Holland away and Poland on neutral territory.  The Denmark game hardly represents a drop in the level of difficulty. There is a fairly recent reference point too; Slovakia hosted the Danes in another friendly, in Trnava, just 17 months ago. They lost 2-1 and will hope to avoid a repeat of the first two minutes of that game, when Kornel Saláta’s own goal got the visitors off to a flying start. The rest of the contest, by contrast, saw the sort of performance the coaching team would surely settle for next Wednesday.  

James Baxter

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Aug 06 2012

Latest News from Corgon Liga

Published by under Domestic

 

In the unlikely event that there’s anyone out there who’s been clicking on this site over the past three weeks in eager anticipation of Slovak league updates, I apologise. Suffice it to say that most Corgoň Liga teams have had inconsistent starts to the season and thus the table, after four  rounds of fixtures, looks a little topsy-turvy.

 

Last season’s cup-finallists, Žilina and Senica, met at Štadión pod Dubňom on Saturday. Róbert Pich, one of the shortest players on the pitch, headed two fine goals in 13 first-half minutes to secure a 2-0 home win. It would have been more comfortable still if Miroslav Barčík hadn’t missed a 45th minute penalty following Jan Kalabiška’s foul on Tomáš Majtán, for which the Senica defender was sent-off. With Senica concentrating on damage-limitation and Žilina losing focus at times, the second period was no great spectacle. Still, the result leaves the hosts as the league’s only unbeaten side and continues their recovery from theirearly Champions League exit. For Senica, who are also out of Europe, this was a third league defeat in four games. They are clearly still getting used to new coach Zdeněk Psotka, and to the loss of Petr Bolek, Nicolas Gorosito and Tomáš Strnad, three of last season’s key players.

 

MFK Košice continued their encouraging start with a 3-0 home win over Trenčín. All the goals came in the last 18 minutes, with Dávid Škutka’s two strikes following Ján Novák’s penalty. Coaches Ján Kozák and Adrián Guľa agreed that it had been an ‘excellent game, with both sides wanting to play good football’. With Kozák back in charge, Košice’s struggles of the last two seasons could soon be a distant memory. As for Trenčín, they will be a difficult proposition for everyone on their own artificial pitch, but they will also want to return to the sort of away form they showed during their climb up the table last spring.

 

Ružomberok undid some of their good work of the first three games by conceding two soft goals in the first 18 minutes of their match at Prešov. New signings Branimir Kostadinov and Jozef Adámik were the players to benefit from the visitors’ defensive generosity, and Ruža were unable to reduce the deficit. Still, considering that these two clubs were enveloped in crises during pre-season, they can still be fairly happy with their starts ; Ruža, with seven points, remain locked in a six-club dispute for first place, while Prešov are just one point behind.

 

Banská Bystrica were Šport’s nomination as the team most likely to make a significant improvement this seasonThey too have seven points from four games but they would have hoped for better than a 0-0 draw from Saturday’s home contest with Vion Zlaté Moravce. Vion coach Juraj Jarábek admitted afterwards that, following his side’s poor start to the season (one point from three games, with seven goals conceded), his priority had been to improve their defensive organisation and cancel out Bystrica’s attacking strengths. It will be interesting to see if Bystrica can fulfil Šport’s expectations of them over the coming weeks, while Vion are surely good enough to start climbing away from the bottom places.

 

Nitra started the season with a 5-0 hammering at Trenčín but seem to have quickly learned their lessons. A 2-0 win at newly promoted Spartak Myjava on Saturday saw them become yet another team to reach the seven point mark. Miloš Šimončič and Seydouba Soumah scored the decisive goals. Myjava’s return of two points from their first three games was respectable enough considering that they’d faced both Žilina and Trnava away from home. However, Nitra at home is the type of fixture that really needs to be won. As coach Ladislav Hudec gloomily admitted after the defeat, ‘with performances like that, we can only talk about a relegation battle. Our home support deserve better.’ It should be noted that only Trnava are currently getting significantly better attendances than Myjava.

 

Trnava are closer to Myjava in terms of league position ; a 1-0 defeat to Slovan Bratislava in Sunday’s derby leaves them with just two points from three games (their match at Žilina was postponed due to the clubs’ respective European commitments). Slovan, for whom formerplaying legend Samuel Slovák recently took over as caretaker-coach following Vladimír Weiss’s sudden departure, secured their victory thanks to Filip Hlohovský’s goal on the stroke of half-time. Guess how many points they have now…..

 

Trnava will be concerned by their start to the league season, especially considering that all the games they’ve played have been at home – their supposed fortress. However, they are the only Slovak club left in European competition this season, and have an exciting night to look forward to this Thursday, when they play Steaua Bucharest in the second leg of their Europa League 3rd qualifying round tie. Trnava hold a 1-0 lead but level-headed coach Pavel Hoftych is telling everyone who’ll listen that the Romanian side remain the favourites to progress. In that case, good luck to the underdogs.

 

Žilina 2 Senica 0

Košice 3 Trenčín 0

Prešov 2 Ružomberok 0

Banská Bystrica 0 Zlaté Moravce 0

Myjava 0 Nitra 2

Trnava 0 Slovan 1

James Baxter


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