Aug 17 2012

Denmark 1-3 Slovakia

Published by at 3:27 pm 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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