Aug 11 2012

Slovakia’s clubs’ European dreams over in early August

Published by at 4:43 pm 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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