Sep 13 2012

Slovakia’s Start to 2014 World Cup Qualifying Campaign

Published by at 7:14 am under International

Lithuania 1 Slovakia 1 (Vilnius)

Slovakia 2 Liechtenstein 0 (Pasienky, Bratislava)

Not the six points Slovakia wanted from these two games, and not the most convincing performances either.

The Lithuania game can be divided into three quite distinct phases. First, there was the opening 25 minutes, where the Slovaks were slow and careless, allowing Lithuaniato take almost complete control. Ján Mucha’s error which resulted in the home side’s 14th minute goal was symptomatic of the whole team’s start to the encounter. The goalkeeper was too late  making up his mind to come off his line to claim a long free-kick, and was thus comprehensively outjumped by the scorer, Marius Žaliukas.

In the middle third, by contrast, Slovakiamade Lithuanialook very ordinary. Marek Bakoš had a goal wrongly disallowed for offside (he was a good yard in front of the last defender as Marek Hamšík played the perfect through ball to him). Then, just before half-time, Marek Sapara found the net with an effort not even these officials could find anything wrong with. The second-half began with Slovakia still on top, but they were set back on their heels by Viktor Pečovský’s 60th minute red card. I’m bound to say this I know, but the Žilina midfielder was desperately unlucky ; he slipped on the artificial turf as he moved into make a challenge and couldn’t help going to ground right in his opponent’s path. Even if the referee couldn’t see this, the foul was never worthy of a sending-off, especially considering that Radoslav Zabavník had earlier gone unpunished for a wild hack at a Lithuanian’s shins, and the home left-back wasn’t carded for a two-footed lunge at Michal Ďuriš.

The last half-hour was a cagey affair. Sapara andHamšík,Slovakia’s best players on the night, began to limit their forays forward from midfield, and Miroslav Stoch was withdrawn in favour of the more defensive-minded Michal Breznaník. For their part, Lithuania didn’t look dangerous until a late flurry of pressure in injury-time. Still, the draw will only begin to look like an acceptable result forSlovakiaifBosniaandGreecealso start to drop points in games they should win. At present, that looks like quite an ‘if’.

The Liechtenstein game saw Stanislav Griga and Michal Hipp make four enforced changes. Mucha withdrew from the squad afterLithuania, saying he didn’t want to give the coaches the dilemma of whether or not to stick with him. Dušan Kuciak took his place. Tomáš Hubočan had some ‘muscle tightness‘ so Kornel Saláta partnered Matin Škrtel in defence, Ľubomír Guldan replaced Pečovský and Vladimír Weiss Junior took over from broken-toe victim Ďuriš.

Liechtenstein were, as anyone would have predicted, desperately short of both quality and ambition. Their approach to the game was perhaps understandable in the light of their 1-8 loss to Bosnia four days earlier but, coupled with Slovakia’s now familiar struggles in front of goal, it made for painful viewing.

Bakoš was again unlucky early on, having two decent efforts well-saved. Once Liechtenstein had got through the opening 15 minutes or so, they began to look more assured and the Slovaks more anxious. Five minutes before half-time, though, the jeers of the scattered 4,000 inside Pasienky were silenced when Weiss got to the bye-line and pulled back the perfect pass for Sapara. His first shot was saved but, despite being off-balance, he skillfully steered home the rebound. Seconds later, Hamšík thumped a header against the crossbar.Slovakia’s second-half display put one in mind of a sleeping dog which wakes occasionally to bark before putting its head down again.Liechtenstein, meanwhile, seemed perfectly content to keep the score at 1-0. The home side finally sealed the points ten minutes from time when Hamšík’s through ball found Stoch. His chip had the ‘keeper beaten and the ball was just crossing the line when Martin Jakubko followed up to make sure. Stoch clearly wanted this goal, at least if the look on his face when Jakubko was announced as the scorer is anything to go by.

With all due respect, individual players can’t really be judged on a performance againstLiechtenstein. Certainly, Kuciak, Saláta, and even Guldan (who concentrated on doing the simple things just in front of the defence) were largely untroubled, Weiss and Stoch were lively at times but frustrating at others, while Bakoš really really needs a goal. If it’s not goalkeepers denying him, it’s the woodwork or referees. Hamšík was excellent again, though. His recent international form has totally changed my perception of him and I really can see now why ridiculous sums of money are sometimes mentioned in connection with his name.

Hamšík’s thoughts on the latest Pasienky experience are not on record but Weiss is not hiding his feelings. Here, translated word for word, is what he said after the Liechtenstein game :

‘It’s embarrassing that so few people came to an international game and that half of them jeered us. We players are fine, we look after each other. People have to realise that we are playing for them. We need them to encourage us, not whistle us from the third minute.

Sometimes, there are games where opponents come to defend, but that’s no reason for people to behave like that and have a go at us. They have very quickly forgotten what we did two years ago when we got to South Africa.’

He is right of course, but I wonder how different things will be when he and his team-mates are back at this ground in October. The Latvia and Greece games will be hard, yet, given the dropped points in Lithuania, Slovakia need at least a win and a draw from them. That would be more achievable with the kind of togetherness between players and fans that Pasienky is so inconducive to.

 James Baxter

6 responses so far

6 Responses to “Slovakia’s Start to 2014 World Cup Qualifying Campaign”

  1.   Fat Eckon 13 Sep 2012 at 11:32 am

    Well said, James and – yeah – these games are a nightmare. I speak from recent direct, personal experience. Scotland had Lithuania and Liechtenstein in our Euro 2012 (non) qualifying group. We too began the campaign with a draw away to Lithuania and the boo-boys at Pasienky don’t know they’re born – Scotland had to wait until the 7th minute of injury time to net their Hampden winner against Liechtenstein. We then beat them by a single goal in Vaduz and managed a miserably boring 1-0 win over the Lithuanians at home.

    I wouldn’t be too down-hearted though. Lithuania are capable of taking points off anyone in Slovakia’s current group – they beat the Czechs in Olomouc after holding us. And I’m sure they drew away to Italy during the Euro 2008 campaign.

    I see Mario Frick wasn’t playing for the visitors in Bratislava on Tuesday. I imagine he must have finally retired but I saw him score an absolute belter in Glasgow two years ago which threatened to bring about the most humiliating result in our national team’s Hampden history. And take heart too from the fact Frick scored the winner the only time Liechtensteain defeated a nation which had ever qualified for a major tourney – and that nation was Latvia.

    These kind of teams – the bottom tier UEFA nations like Andorra, San Marino and Liehctensteain – usually only lose by a barrel-load when they’re playing the top tier nations (Spain, Germany) or a side who are as loose at the back at crucial moments against decent opponents as they are capable up front against poor ones (Bosnia, Armenia, Russia).

    Easy for me to say from the far side of Europe (and because Scotland have half as many bloody points from their two opening 2014 home games as Slovakia have from a home and away start!) BUT I think Griga and Hipp have a chance here. Bosnia have been on the cusp of greatness for a few years now and I’d see them as the favourites to finish top but, having failed in two recent play-offs they’re in that dangerous mind-set of thinking they’re good enough but without the augmenting experience of having actually qualified for anything (banging in 8 goals against minnows is nice but it’s still only 2 points and they had six put past themselves by Portugal in the Euro 2012 play-off). Greece have clearly had their fun, at Euro 2012. I think Slovakia could get inbetween the two of them pretty easily and the 2 Balkan derbies will cancel out the other two contenders.

    But, most of all, you don’t have Craig Levein in charge – so there’s always a chance! :-(

  2.   Fat Eckon 13 Sep 2012 at 11:36 am

    apparently it’s *3 points* for a win now – whatever will Platini think of next … aherm.

  3.   Jameson 13 Sep 2012 at 1:51 pm

    Alex, yes, watched Scotland v Serbia and if I didn’t know before, I know very well now why Scotland fans have a problem with Craig Levein.

    Good points there about Bosnia and the 8 goals against Liechtenstein. Lubomir Guldan was another interviewed in Sport and he said an old FC Thun mate from the Liechtenstein team told him after Tuesday’s game that Liechtenstein had come to Pasienky to keep the score down. Sk paid for that 1-8 both in that sense and in the sense that the home ‘crowd’ thought they had a divine right to see a goal-fest and got all huffy when it didn’t happen.

    Frick wasn’t playing, as you say, but Stocklasa is one who seems to have been around for ages. Must be tough being, say, a 100-cap veteran for a side like Liechtenstein.

    The Lithuanians’ win in Olomouc is definitely a result worth recalling in the context of this group. I should perhaps add too that Sk started Euro 2012 qualifying with two wins, including one in Russia, yet ultimately didn’t qualify while Russia did – easily. It’s just frustrating that Friday’s game looked very very winnable. A half-awake first 25 mins and/or no red card and I’m sure they would have won. Add to that the fact that this team does have talent. Skrtel, Hamsik, Sapara, and Stoch are very accomplished players. I’m sure the first two (especially) would walk into the sides of a lot of countries 4/5 times the size. Actually, put Sapara in the Scottish midfield last Saturday and I reckon you’d have beaten Serbia.

    Not just because you’ve reminded me that some countries have to suffer the likes of Levein, but I’ve got lots and lots of time for Griga and Hipp, as men and as coaches. Both are decent, serious, experienced and totally professional. What’s missing a bit is flexibility in formations etc. In his first 2 years, Weiss Sr was often ready with a little trick his opposite number wasn’t anticipating, whether changing the team’s shape or putting a player in a different position from normal. Now, it’s always 4-2-3-1 with players having a definite role and not being encouraged to deviate much from it. On the other hand, they’re giving chances to guys Weiss didn’t seem to rate, with mostly positive results.

    How the group will finish I don’t know, but I’d definitely agree that Greece, Bosnia and Sk ought to occupy the first three players with the Baltic boys behind them. Got to beat Latvia, though – I’ll be at Pasienky on Oct 12th, trying to help the atmosphere along a bit!

  4.   Fat Eckon 16 Sep 2012 at 2:07 pm

    Aye, great point, James. Doesn’t matter how much theorising and wider contextualising one can get into about what’s maybe going to happen over the course of any campaign (watching Scotland this century has me preferring the cuddly “what ifs” of qualifying groups to their ever-harsher reality), when you see your team pass up the chance to win a winnable match it’s just sickening.

    And I think the mini-backlash Slovakia experienced from Liechtenstein will be the very thing which finishes off Levein: Probably the worst of all the results for him last week ocurred in Novi Sad: Serbia’s humiliation of Wales is a guarantor Scotland will, for the third time this century,face the prospect of a stuffing in Cardiff. Our last one did for George Burley. His replacement will be made aware of the symbolism – his pre- and post-match interviews are becoming his biggest gaffes.

    And, at least Stocklasa gets some exercise and sense of pride from his 100 games – I’m close to the 100 “cap” mark myself with Scotland and it’s mostly been false hope and massive disappointment :-)

    Hope you enjoy Pasienky on the 12th – and, despite its infelxibility, enjoy knowing your favourites will play with one up front: Levein’s “hold on for a point” metality could well see another outing of the 6-4-0 formation debuted in Prague :-)

  5.   StaryJazvecon 17 Sep 2012 at 6:51 pm

    What is embarrassing is that international games have to be played at Pasienky. How much were people scalped for tickets this time? 2 against part-timers?!? Why the **** should the paying punter cheer for that as he luxuriates in the sumptuous Pasienky facilities.

    A propos of nothing, Soumah Seydouba, crazy name, crazy guy.

    Horrible ball from Karhan, needed a slap just for that.

  6.   Jameson 17 Sep 2012 at 7:23 pm

    Re Soumah, I wonder if Nitra are going to follow up on the allegations in the statement published in this morning’s paper, ie that the Trnava players were racially abusing him. Clearly sth happened that made him lose his rag. There’s the gestures, stamping on Carnota, trying to punch Karhan, then threatening the ref. We should be hearing plenty more about it all….

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