Archive for October, 2012

Oct 29 2012

Zilina v Slovan / Round-up

Published by under Uncategorized

It  was another indecisive weekend in the Corgoň Liga. Four of the five matches played ended in draws, with a sixth being postponed. Žilina and Slovan Bratislava, last season’s champions and the current league leaders respectively, failed to trouble the scorers at Štadión pod Dubňom on Sunday. It was a watchable enough game, with both sides looking well-organised and producing spells of constructive football. Although the result maintains Slovan’s three-point advantage over their rivals, they will be the ones feeling they should have won. After 88 minutes, they had the evening’s only clear-cut chance, but Juraj Halenár, after running half the length of the pitch unchallenged, produced the feeblest of finishes. Besides that, Žilina‘keeper Martin Dúbravka had more serious work to do than opposite number Matúš Putnocký. Two saves from Marko Milinković – the game’s outstanding player - especially caught the eye. The hosts continued their policy of putting their trust in teenagers. Milan Škriniar and Peter Lupčo both started, with Jaroslav Mihalík coming on as a second-half substitute. Škriniar in particular gave a sound performance, and all three should benefit from the experience a game like this brings.

The build-up to Saturday’s attractive-looking Košice v Senica fixture was unfairly overshadowed by the attention given to Žilina v Slovan. When it was played, though, it didn’t lack excitement. Senica took a 9th minute lead through Juraj Piroška’s penalty but goals from Dávid Škutka and Ján Novák had the hosts ahead by half-time. Adam Varadi’s second-half strike gave Senica a point. Their coach, Zdeněk Psotka, was happy enough afterwards, even though the result brought to an end a run of five succesive league wins. His opposite number,the ever-quotable Ján Kozák, believes Senica have an even better squad than Žilina or Slovan. He was still disappointed his team couldn’t hold onto their half-time lead, but will take comfort in the fact that they remain unbeaten at home. From a neutral perspective, the only disappointing aspect of this match was that the adverse weather, combined with a largely uncovered stadium, kept the fans away. Only 1,050 turned up. Given kinder conditions, Košice would reasonably have hoped for 3,000+.

Prešov, Košice’s eastern neighbours, also went into the weekend undefeated at home. But they failed to emerge unscathed from the visit of unpredictable Trenčín. Andrij Ševčuk gave Prešov a 12th minute lead, but Karol Mondek and Samuel Štefaník scored second-half goals for the visitors. The post-match comments from the two coaches were entirely predictable.‘We started well, but lost the midfield battle in the second-half. I’m not happy,’ said Prešov’s Angel Červenkov. ‘We started slowly, but managed to turn it around with a very good performance,’ replied Adrián Guľa.

The Nitra public are not exactly rallying round their crisis-hit club. In admittedly dismal weather, only 310 fans paid to see Saturday’s 1-1 draw at home to Vion Zlaté Moravce. Afterfalling behind to Andrej Hodek’s goal, Nitra at least rewarded the faithful few by battlingaway to earn a point, thanks to a 70th minute goal from Matúš Mikuš.. Afterwards, Nitra coach Ladislav Jurkemík didn’t contest Juraj Jarábek’s view that Vion were the better side. However, he did allow himself to hope that the result, which follows a run of five defeats in a row, will herald a much-needed upturn in his club’s fortunes.

The two Spartaks, Myjava and Trnava, produced an action packed second-half which resulted in a 2-2 draw. Peter Sládek twice put the promoted side ahead, but Trnava showed their fighting spirit hasn’t deserted them by twice coming back. Michal Gašparík and Marek Janečka scored their goals. Later, Myjava coach Ladislav Hudec was responsible for the two best quotes of the weekend. Referring to his players‘ passive first-half performance, he revealed that he had asked them at half-time whether they would prefer to be playing Jaslovské Bohunice (‘no disrespect to them’) as opposed to sharing a pitch with the likes of Trnava, Žilina or Slovan. Hudec also seems to feel Trnava are beginning to make rather a drama out of their perceived misfortunes. ‘I wish (they) were second or third in the table,’ he said, ‘then the rest of the league wouldn’t be made to suffer from the fact that they’re at the bottom.’

The central Slovakia derby between Banská Bystrica and Ružomberok was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch. No’one disagreed with referee Miroslav Fajčík’s decision not to allow the match to start, but there was sympathy for Ruža’s fans, who had already arrived at Štadión SNP when the inevitable announcement was made. The clubs have agreed to try again on Tuesday November 20th.

Žilina 0 Slovan 0

Košice 2 Senica 2

Prešov 1 Trenčín 2

Nitra 1 Zlaté Moravce 1

Myjava 2 Trnava 2

Banská Bystrica v Ružomberok – Postponed


James Baxter

2 responses so far

Oct 27 2012

Žilina v Slovan Preview

Published by under Domestic

Sunday’s Žilina v Slovan game looks like the biggest in the Corgoň Liga so far this season. I say that with full respect for other matches played this weekend. There’s Košice v Senica, for example, which sees the hosts put their near-perfect home record on the line against a team with five successive wins. Or league newcomers Myjava against Trnava, the side no’one thought would be occupying bottom spot at this stage of the season.

But Žilina and Slovan have shared the last four league titles between them. They went into the weekend in second and first places respectively. Their games are usually accompanied by a bit of needle. Mutual antipathy should always be part of a fixture like this, though hopefully the occasion won’t be marred by the sort of off-field unpleasantness witnessed at three of thesides’ last four meetings at Štadión pod Dubňom.

Poor crowd behaviour at this fixture is a topic it would be tedious to go over again. However, the question of what sort of attendance there’ll be on Sunday is an interesting one, especially considering that both sets of fans are disaffected. One of Žilina’s fan-clubs continues to boycott games for a variety of reasons, most of them dubious. Meanwhile, Slovan supporters have more understandable gripes at their clubs’ stadium situation and, as this weekend, at constantly having to watch games at times dictated by the TV companies. 1900 on a Sunday is hardly most people’s ideal time to watch live football, and the weather promises to be bitterly cold, so I suspect Žilina will be pleasantly surprised if as many as 4,000 turn up.

The last time the sides met in Žilina was in April, when the hosts produced a dominant second-half performance to win 3-0. One way to read that victory was as a vindication of the policy of spreading your scouting activities. Ricardo Nunes (recently capped by South Africa) and Togo captain Serge Akakpo were both outstanding for Žilina. Slovan’s recent recruits at the time – Mário Pečalka, Kamil Kopúnek and Ondřej Smetana – all had plenty of Corgoň Liga experience with their previous clubs, but all were anonymous or poor.

Slovan haven’t altered their overall approach since, but their summer signings are working out very well. Former Senica player Nicolas Gorosito is a fixture at centre-back, while Filip Hlohovský and Lester Peltier are continuing to show the attacking capabilities they revealedwhile at Trenčín. Žilina have taken a different direction again. The players they have introduced this autumn have mostly been teenage products of the club’s youth system. It is unlikely that all of Milan Škriniar (17), Miroslav Kačer (16), Jaroslav Mihalík (18) and Peter Lupčo (17) will start on Sunday, but one or two of them will definitely have a part to play at some stage.

Then there are players making their way back after long injury lay-offs. Babatounde Issiaka Bello scored twice for Žilina in April, and even outshone Nunes and Akakpo, but he has been out for most of this season and will not be ready for Sunday. Slovan have better news about Igor Žofčák. His absence in spring was perhaps the biggest single reason his team didn’t make a better fist of retaining the title they won in 2011. They were adapting better to lifewithout him this season, but his return for last Sunday’s Košice game will still have been most welcome. If I had to name one player on either side who could decide a close game with, say, a clever through ball or a perfectly delivered set-piece, it would be Žofčák. Žilina will have the utmost respect for his abilities.

The coaches are another point of interest. Dutchman Frans Adelaar took over on the Žilina bench just two weeks after that April meeting. His brief is to continue to earn success, while improving the attractiveness of the team’s football. Whether or not he is fulfilling the second part is a debatable point, but the youngsters have been brought in on his initiative and – rather perversely - his defence is the meanest in the league. Vladimír Weiss, never quite accepted by the Slovan fans, left the club in July, ironically enough after a 1-1 draw at home to Sunday’s opponents. He was replaced by Samuel Slovák, already a Slovan legend for the 169 appearances he made for them over three spells as a player. Not even Slovák’s presence has been able to get the Slovan fans flocking to Pasienky, but they would definitely settle fora return to their own stadium with him as coach. Plenty of patience will be required for that to happen of course, and Slovák won’t be devoting much thought to the prospect at present.

Like any good coach, he will be concentrating on the most immediate task at hand – masterminding victory over his team’s nearest rivals.

Prediction : Žilina 1 Slovan 1


James Baxter



2 responses so far

Oct 22 2012

Corgon Liga Latest 21-Oct

Published by under Domestic

At least Saturday’s Trnava v Žilina game was all about the football. At the corresponding fixture last season, Žilina’s ‘support’ was augmented by a number of Polish hooligans and there was trouble before, during and after the match. The Poles didn’t carry out their threat to make their presence felt again, so all was quiet off the field. On the pitch, Miroslav Karhan gave Trnava a 16th minute lead with a fantastic shot direct from a free-kick. But Žilina turned things round before half-time, as Róbert Pich and Momodou Ceesay finished off moves initiated by captain Miroslav Barčík. Žilina then saw out the second period for a timely win ahead of next week’s top-of-the-table clash with Slovan Bratislava. As for Trnava, this was their third successive defeat and they remain rooted to the bottom of the league.

Senica’s excellent form shows no sign of letting up. They found visiting Prešov tough to break down in the first-half on Saturday, but the creative talents of Juraj Piroška, who set up Peter Pavlík for the all-important first goal after 56 minutes, ultimately proved crucial. Further chances came and went, until Lamine Diarrassouba made it 2-0 in the closing stages. But it is surely no co’incidence that Senica’s remarkable recovery from a poor start to the season – they are on a run of five successive wins – was launched after Piroška’s return to the club from Slovan.

Vion Zlaté Moravce are another side in fine form. A 3-1 win over Myjava on Saturday keeps them just one point behind Žilina and Senica. Goals from Ľubomír Bernáth and Lukáš Kováč saw Vion go 2-0 up within the first-half hour. Matej Siva pulled one back before half-time to set up an interesting second period but, after spells of Myjava pressure, Adrián Candrák put the result beyond doubt. ‘This was a good game for the spectators but not for me as a coach,’said Myjava’s Ladislav Hudec afterwards. ‘We conceded goals we should have prevented.’

Trenčín have only sporadically been at their best this season and they had to settle for another home draw on Saturday – 1-1 against Banská Bystrica. Argentinian midfielder Ivan Santiago  Diaz put the hosts ahead with a header that compatriot and team-mate David Depetris would have been proud of. But Bystrica earned a point through Milan Ferenčík’s goal twenty minutes from full-time. ‘We weren’t short of ideas but we lacked concentration at times,’ saidTrenčín coach Adrián Guľa. ‘And you also have to say that Bystrica did a good job.’

Ružomberok were on a run of seven winless games going into the weekend fixtures, so they might have been happy that their Saturday opponents were crisis-hit Nitra. It was Nitra who took an early lead, however, as Andrej Ivančík’s low shot beat keeper Lukáš Zich at his near post. Zich will have been happy to watch from the other end as Mulumba Mukendi turned things round in the second-half, courtesy of two fine headed goals. Later, both coaches agreed that the game had been a battle rather than an exhibition of attractive football. Ladislav Jurkemík also concurred with Ladislav Šimčo’s assertion that Ruža had deserved the points.‘We were caught sleeping twice and got punished twice,’ said Jurkemík.

Slovan rounded the weekend off with a comfortable 3-1 win at home to Košice. The game was effectively decided inside the first half-hour, thanks to goals from Nicolas Gorosito, Lester Peltier and Marko Milinković. Dávid Škutka pulled one back for the visitors after 76 minutes, but they had given themselves far too much to do. Just like neighbours Prešov, Košice are formidable at home but struggle badly away. As for Slovan, the result is just what they needed after an awkward week off the field. They have been involved in a dispute with Digi Šport and some of their fellow Corgoň Liga clubs over attempts to rearrange their home game with Trnava, which fans had threatened to boycott when the TV company announced plans to screen it live on Friday 2nd November. It was also reported on Friday that Filip Šebo has played his last game for the club after refusing to sign a new contract. Clearly, however,there are still goals in the Slovan team, and they go into next week’s game at Žilina with a three-point lead at the top of the league.

Trnava 1 Žilina 2

Senica 2 Prešov 0

Zlaté Moravce 3 Myjava 1

Trenčín 1 Banská Bystrica 1

Ružomberok 2 Nitra 1

Slovan 3 Košice 1


James Baxter

2 responses so far

Oct 17 2012

World Cup Qualifying: Slovakia 0-1 Greece

Published by under International

So the swish new stadium inWarsaw was unable to stage Poland v England on Tuesday. Clearly, a retractable roof is of no use when you get the wrong kind of rain.  Bratislava was hit by a similarly torrential downpour. Yet Pasienky, one of European football’s direst hell-holes, a place where they couldn’t even be bothered to provide cover for more than 1,500 spectators, DID get a game. And it was the kind of game that’s just so typical of Greece. The visitors were poor. They were outplayed by an eagar, skillful home side. But, while Marek Hamšík alone missed four acceptable opportunities for the hosts, Greece scored from their only real chance. With 63 minutes gone, substitute Kostas Mitroglou found Dmitris Salpingidis unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box, Kornel Saláta having unwisely stepped forward in an attempt to catch his man offside. Salpingidis confidently swept the ball high into the net.

Joint coaches Stanislav Griga and Michal Hipp made three changes to the Slovakia side that had started Friday’s game against Latvia. Radoslav Zabavník replaced Peter Pekarík at right-back, primarily in order to intimidate Giorgos Samaras. Further forward, Juraj Kucka and Michal Ďuriš came in for Vladimír Weiss and Marek Bakoš. Kucka slotted in alongide Viktor Pečovský in a deeper midfield role, though he did roam forward at times to prove that, even at Pasienky, the fans behind the goals are never quite safe from his 30-yard projectiles. Marek Sapara was pushed up to attacking midfield, with Hamšík moving to the right, from where he frequently switched positions with lone striker Ďuriš.

The changes were not insignificant, yet they caused no lack of fluency as the team’s system continued to work well. But every possible method of failing to convert good approach play into goals was put into operation ; having shots well saved (Michal Breznaník was twice unlucky in this regard), having them cleared off the line (Hamšík), hitting the post (Breznaník again), missing the target (numerous players), and missing the ball completely (substitute Filip Hološko and Hamšík again).

Greece were uninspiring and will not try to pretend that their performance was a good one. But they had the cleverness necessary to win a difficult game. The arrival of Mitroglou, after 59 minutes, looked like a significant moment at the time because the man he replaced was Theofanis Gekas, the team‘s top goalscorer. Perhaps Slovakia were lured into thinking they had their opponents on the rack when they saw the man they’d thought would pose the biggest threat go off. Even after the goal, the Greek defence had their share of anxious moments. At the same time, they began to do the things they’re good at – defending in depth, running the clock down, engaging in theatrics and generally frustrating the opposition.

Afterwards, Stanislav Griga found some typically wise words to sum the night up. ‘That’s why Greece qualify for tournaments and do well in them,’ he said. ‘They win even when the other team is better. We played well, but we simply have to win games like that. Not lose. Not draw. Win.’

You can only win if you score goals, of course. Even after the Latvia game, Griga was expressing concern over Slovakia’s poor chance conversion rate. Once a fine international striker himself, he knows what qualities a player needs to be a good finisher, difficult though these are to teach. ‘In the penalty-area, you’ve got to be like a shark,’ he summarised.

Do Slovakia have any sharks? Perhaps Martin Jakubko, who scored twice in three substitute appearances before getting injured in the lead-up to theLatviamatch, might have shown his predatory instincts, had he been fit. What of Stanislav Šesták, top scorer in qualifying for the 2010 World Cup? It’s poignant to think that, four years ago almost to the day, two late Šesták goals turned around a game Slovakia had been losing, at home to Poland. Or Róbert Vittek, who struck four times at the finals in South Africa? Filip Šebo was spotted in the stands at the Latvia game. He might not be a lost cause at international level just yet, but he needs to start playing club football again. And to do that, he needs to either secure a move away from Slovan Bratislava, or retreat from the ridiculous wage demands he has made of the club.

That said, goalscoring is not only about strikers. Hamšík, for example, has just turned in two performances full of running and creativity. But he has somehow managed to miss eight chances in those 180 minutes. International players, especially those with eye-watering price-tags dangling from their necks, need to do a little better than that. As Griga also said on Tuesday night, getting to the World Cup is still not impossible. The team is playing better, and more attractively, than it did in the Euro 2012 qualification campaign. At the moment, though, such thoughts provide little consolation.

James Baxter

One response so far

Oct 15 2012

Slovakia 2 Latvia 1 .. World Cup Qualifying Progress ..

Published by under International

Slovakia 2 Latvia 1

‘Unnecessary Drama’ was Šport’s headline the morning after this game. It is an apt summary of a contest in which Slovakia took an early 2-0 lead, had enough chances to add at least a further two or three goals, then conceded late on and had to play out the remaining minutes just to ensure the victory.

Nothing is coming easy for Stanislav Griga and Michal Hipp’s team, yet this was, in most respects, a very decent performance. The coaches had been preaching patience in the build-up, so the start was more than they could have hoped for. With less than six minutes played, Marek Sapara chipped a pass down the inside-left channel. Vladimír Weiss, running from the right, brought the ball down well, but was then himself brought down as he attempted to go round Andris Vanins. A yellow card for the ‘keeper was followed by further punishment as Marek Hamšík slotted home the penalty.

Three minutes later, Michal Breznaník, selected ahead of Radoslav Zabavník at left-back, was fouled on the edge of the Latvian box. Sapara’s curling free-kick was deflected on its way into the net, but the Trabzonspor midfielder was more than happy to claim his third goal in successive qualifying matches.

The two midfeld Mareks continued to figure prominently for the rest of the contest. Sapara hardly misplaced a pass all night and was, by common consent, the best player on the pitch. Hamšík was full of purpose, and showed some lovely touches, but should really have added more goals. Vanins denied him with a couple of fine saves, but there were also occasions when Hamšík found himself in front of goal, only to lack the anticipation or ruthlessness to finish properly.

It was a similar story with Miroslav Stoch. He saw plenty of the ball as the game wore on and Latvia were forced to commit more players forward. He worked himself into position for his trademark long-range shots on a couple of occasions, but failed to seriously trouble Vanins.

Latvia had their share of possession, but were mostly innocuous against Slovakia’s solid back four. Martin Škrtel was as formidable as usual, Kornel Saláta alongside him did little wrong, and both full-backs had sound games. The visitors did force Dušan Kuciak into one fine first-half save, and also had a goal disallowed on the stroke of half-time. It was a surprise that Maris Verpakovskis, Latvia’s best-known player and a veteran of 93 internationals (and 28 goals) didn’t make an appearance until the 80th minute. Six minutes after coming on, he lured Viktor Pečovský into an unnecessary trip on the left-hand edge of the penalty-area. The referee correctly judged that contact had been made inside the box and Verpakovskis himself chipped home the penalty, rather in the style of Antonín Panenka.

A second Latvian goal would have been a travesty, though, in truth, Slovakia held on with ease. A bigger worry than the visitors‘ attacks in those closing moments was a head injury to Škrtel – it remains to be seen if he will participate against Greece on Tuesday. Otherwise, the main question-marks concern the team’s (in)ability to take their chances. In this respect, the form of Marek Bakoš is a concern. As usual, he worked hard as the single striker. But, also as usual, he looked short of confidence when presented with shooting opportunities. After seven starts for his country, he is still without a goal. Filip Hološko replaced him after 60 minutes and looked lively enough to warrant consideration for a starting place.

And what of Pasienky and its notorious lack of atmosphere? Well, the players seemed keen to rebuild bridges in their post-match interviews. Weiss, the most vocal critic of the ground and crowd after the Liechtenstein game, said that ‘this time, the people came to support’. There are actually several reasons to be sceptical of that statement. Firstly, in the lead-up to the match, the SFZ had issued the squad with a frankly hilarious list of instructions for how to deal with certain questions from the media. Pasienky was one of the topics covered ; rather than describe it in negative terms, players are now to say that, as professionals, it doesn’t much matter where they play but that they welcome the prospect (such as it is) of a new national stadium. Clearly, Weiss’s words were largely the unconvincing product of these first lessons in diplomacy. In any case, only 4,012 could be bothered to turn-up for the game and, while there was no audible criticism of the players, there wasn’t any real atmosphere either, other than that created by 25 or so valiant Latvians at the front of the main stand. Finally, of course, the team’s start to the game meant that getting on their backs would have been even more unreasonable than it was against Liechtenstein.

So Pasienky is not acquitted. As for the team, they passed their Latvia test, at times with style, but a far sterner one awaits when the Greeks arrive on Tuesday.

James Baxter

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Oct 10 2012

Previewing Slovakia v Greece & Latvia

Published by under International

If their comments following the Liechtenstein match last month are anything to go by, there are probably a few Slovakia players who aren’t much looking forward to stepping out at Pasienky again. But step out there they must, and twice in four days at that. On Friday (October 12th), they take on Latvia in Group G of World Cup qualifying. Greece, the group’s joint leaders after the first two rounds of fixtures, follow next Tuesday.

Over the last few days, there has been both good and bad news for Slovakia’s joint coaches Stanislav Griga and Michal Hipp. The good news, which arrived last Friday, is that Viktor Pečovský has had his two-game ban for being sent off in Lithuania halved by FIFA’s disciplinary commission. Having already missed the win overLiechtenstein, the Žilina midfielder is now eligible to face the Latvians.

The bad news concerns two Russia-based members of the squad, Tomáš Hubočan and Martin Jakubko. Centre-back Hubočan is currently in a St Petersburg hospital with an undiagnosed stomach illness, while striker Jakubko sustained a fractured jaw while playing for Amkar Perm at the weekend. Hubočan has not yet been ruled out of the Greece game but Jakubko is likely to be on the sidelines for several weeks. Filip Hološko and Róbert Jež have been called up to the squad.

Griga and Hipp’s original selection showed just two changes from the squad they nominated for the Lithuania and Liechtenstein games. Goalkeeper Ján Mucha is still in self-imposed exile and has been replaced in the squad by Slovan Bratislava’s Matúš Putnocký, though the coaches have unequivocally stated that Dušan Kuciak is now their first choice in goal.

Another Slovan player, full-back Lukáš Pauschek, has been released to the Under-21s, who have a big game of their own on Thursday ; the first leg of their European Championship qualifying play-off against Holland. Coming in in his place is (he says with weary sigh) Ján Ďurica. Ďurica’s international career seems to ‘progress’ in endless circles. Due to injury, or loss of form or favour, he has a longish lay-off. Then he returns and has a stormer of a first game back, treating his immediate opponent much as a rottweiler treats a rag-doll. This is followed by a series of steadily deteriorating performances, the last of which sees him scoring an own-goal, making a fatal defensive error of some sort, or generally getting the run-around from a small, nimble striker. He’s then left out again. If the cycle repeats itself this time, he’s at least due a big game against the Latvians.

Ďurica may still be sporting a black eye, sustained in his latest appearance for Lokomotiv Moscow, but he is indeed the likeliest partner for Martin Škrtel at centre-back on Friday. His advantage over Kornel Saláta, the other central defender in the squad, is that he is naturally left-sided, and thus compliments Škrtel, who prefers the right. Peter Pekarík and Radoslav Zabavník will probably continue as the full-backs.

Marek Sapara impressed Hipp when lining up for Trabzonspor at the weekend and is sure of one of the deeper midfield positions. Pečovský is probably the slight favourite, over Ľubomír Guldan, to partner him. Guldan deputised for Pečovský against Liechtenstein but, through no fault of his own, his performance proved little. He followed the tactical instructions by holding a position just in front of the defence and playing the simplest pass when the ball came to him. The problem was that Liechtenstein lacked the quality and attacking ambition to test out his defensive qualities.

Miroslav Stoch and Marek Hamšík will definitely form two-thirds of the attacking midfield trio. Weiss may well join them, though Viktoria Plzeň’s Michal Ďuriš has made a positive impression in his appearances so far. Up front, I suspect that Griga and Hipp would have opted for Jakubko, had he been fit. He has shown signs of a goalscoring instinct since his return to international football in August and is dangerous at set-pieces, an important consideration when games are likely to be tight. In his absence, Marek Bakoš, more effective with his back to goal than Hološko, is likely to get the starting place.

In an interview published this morning, Griga refused to say how many points he believes Slovakia need from the coming two games. Before the start of the campaign, I would have targeted ten from the four autumn fixtures. But that assumed a win in Lithuania. In reality, the unfocused start the team made to that game, together with Pečovský’s unfortunate dismissal, led to the Slovaks having to settle for a draw against the limited-looking hosts.Latvia at home is very much in the ‘sort of game you have to win’ category, while a draw against the Greeks would still be an acceptable result. If either of the coming games is lost, though, qualification will start to look a tall order, especially as only two home fixtures will be left to play in 2013.

But the most interesting questions around theLatvia and Greece games concerns Pasienky. How will the home players respond to playing at a ground they’ve expressed such a dislike for? How will the paying public respond to the team after being criticised by Weiss and others for lack of support at the Liechtenstein match? Will the surroundings deflate the Latvians and Greeks even more than they do the Slovaks. I’m going to theLatvia game, so I’ll be able to supply the answers partly from first-hand experience. Let’s hope there’s something positive to report….

 Slovakia Squad

Dušan Kuciak (Legia Varšava)
Dušan Perniš (Pogoň Štetín)
Matúš Putnocký (ŠK Slovan Bratislava)

Peter Pekarík (Hertha BSC Berlín)
Ján Ďurica (Lokomotiv Moskva)
Martin Škrtel (FC Liverpool)
Tomáš Hubočan (Zenit Petrohrad)
Kornel Saláta (FK Rostov)
Radoslav Zabavník (1. FSV Mainz 05)
Marek Čech (Trabzonspor AS)

Vladimír Weiss (Delfino Pescara)
Juraj Kucka (FC Janov)
Karim Guédé (SC Freiburg)
Viktor Pečovský (MŠK Žilina)
Ľubomír Guldan (Ludogorets Razgrad)
Miroslav Stoch (Fenerbahce Istanbul)
Michal Breznaník (FC Amkar Perm)

Róbert Jež (Zaglebie Lubin)
Marek Hamšík (SSC Neapol)
Marek Sapara (TrabzonsporAS)

Marek Bakoš (FC Viktoria Plzeň)
Michal Ďuriš (FC ViktoriaPlzeň)

Filip Hološko (Besiktas Istanbul)


James Baxter

One response so far

Oct 09 2012

Corgon Liga Update 6-Oct

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After the brief respite provided by two successive victories, Trnava’s season is getting worse again. A 1-0 defeat to David Škutka’s 82nd minute header at Košice on Friday night was disappointing enough. Rather more disturbing was an incident in the early hours of Saturday morning when the team bus returned to Trnava. It was met by a group of 30 or so people shouting insults and threats, and the cars of two members of the travelling party were found to have been damaged. While police hunt the culprits, the club’s co-owner, Vladimír Poór, has found it necessary to issue another statement to the effect that coach Pavel Hoftych’s job is safe. Ján Kozák, Hoftych’s Košice counterpart, is in no need of votes of confidence. His side have a near-perfect home record and continue to attract increasing interest from their local public ; 3,460 watched Friday’s game.

Another Friday fixture saw Vion Zlaté Moravce fail to breach the resilient defence of visiting Ružomberok. Defender Oliver Práznovský was outstanding for Ruža, who might even have earned a first win in seven games if Tomáš Ďubek hadn’t missed a late chance. Vion midfielder Michal Škvarka suggested after the game that Ruža’s emphasis on containment had made them tougher opponents than other recent visitors, such as Slovan Bratislava and Trenčín, who ‘came to play football’.

Slovan retain their three-point lead at the top, despite becoming the latest side to fail to win at Prešov. In a game of few chances, Slovan had the better of the first-half, but were mostly restricted to long-range efforts, while Prešov improved after the break. The home side had the game’s best opportunity in this period but a stretching Štefan Žošák was unable to convert Ján Papaj’s cross.

There were at least a couple of goals in Žilina’s draw at Myjava. The home side took the lead halfway through the first-half, when Roman Častulín skillfully headed home from Peter Kuračka’s free-kick. Viktor Pečovský equalised 14 minutes later, after being allowed to run unchallenged down the middle of the field. Žilina had the better chances in the second period, and Myjava ‘keeper Michal Šulla did brilliantly to keep out headers from Momodou Ceesay and Serge Akakpo. Later, reflecting on a rejected penalty appeal following a tackle on Róbert Pich, Frans Adelaar, Žilina’s Dutch coach, wondered if the rules of football in Slovakia were different from those in Holland.

All of a sudden, Senica are the league’s form side. Their 2-1 win at Banská Bystrica on Saturday was their fourth in a row, and puts them level on points with Žilina. They had to come from behind to earn this latest victory, following Milan Ferenčík’s neatly-taken first-half goal for the hosts. Two close-range efforts from Roland Blackburn, the first of which followed some truly incompetent defending, turned things round for Zdeněk Psotka’s team.

Nitra’s misery continued with a home defeat to Trenčín. Things were looking up for the hosts when Cleber scored with a long-range shot following a free-kick. But then, in the 38th minute, Vratislav Gajdoš was sent-off for a second bookable offence and Nitra were further punished by Peter Kleščík’s equaliser five minutes later. The first 15 minutes of the second-half saw another red card forNitraand another goal for Trenčín. Karel Kroupa was the man heading for the early shower and David Depetris (who else?) was responsible for the visitors’ winner. Only 590 watched this game, another sign, perhaps, that the incidents at the Trnava game have torn Nitra’s season apart. 

Košice 1 Trnava 0

Zlaté Moravce 0 Ružomberok 0

Prešov 0 Slovan 0

Myjava 1 Žilina 1

Banská Bystrica 1 Senica 2

Nitra 1 Trenčín 2

 James Baxter

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Oct 02 2012

Youngsters in the Corgon Liga

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Below are two quotes which I think define this Corgoň Liga season so far :

‘Our fans didn’t deserve that. It’s time to freshen the side up with some younger players.’

Myjava coach Ladislav Hudec, speaking after a 2-0 home defeat by Nitra in early August.

‘When you’ve gone four games without a win with older players in the team, it’s time to give the youngsters a chance.’ Žilina coach Frans Adelaar explaining changes to his line-up for the away game at Banská Bystrica in mid-September.

Myjava’s fortunes have improved since Hudec expressed his dissatisfaction. They are still not the league’s most youthful side but they recently terminated the contracts of veterans Zdeno Štrba and Pavol Straka (in very amicable fashion it has to be said – both players were publicly thanked for their services before a recent home game), while the likes of Slovakia’s Under-21 goalkeeper Michal Šulla and 23-year old Peter Sládek have been key figures in their rise up the table.

For their part, Žilina have sent established striker Tomáš Majtán on loan to Baník Ostrava, and dropped Peter Šulek to the B-team. 34-year old club captain Miroslav Barčík has only been used from the substitutes bench in recent weeks. By contrast, teenagers Milan Škriniar, Jaroslav Mihalík, Miroslav Kačer and Jean Deza have been getting opportunities in the starting line-up.

There are similar trends at other clubs. Vion Zlaté Moravce’s recent surge up the table is largely due to the excellent form of two former members of the Žilina academy, Michal Škvarka and Adam Žilák, both of whom have just turned 20. Trenčín sold two of their best players from last season, Lester Peltier and Filip Hlohovský, to Slovan Bratislava. Their places have been taken by teenager Marek Frimmel and 20-year old Jakub Holúbek, with Stanislav Lobotka, another teenager, also featuring regularly.

After Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Banská Bystrica, Slovan coach Samuel Slovák commented on the quality of the home team’s youngsters, two of whom, defender Norbert Gyömbér and midfielder Jakub Považanec, are regulars in the Under-21 squad. Gyömbér spent much of pre-season on an extended trial at Bundesliga club Wolfsburg, where he apparently achieved the rare feat of impressing head coach Felix Magath.

Ružomberok and Prešov are two clubs who have had to use their youngsters, due to spending the summer in financial penury. This didn’t prevent Ruža getting their season off to a highly impressive start (admittedly, they are currently going through a difficult spell), while one of Prešov’s better players at Žilina last week was another 18-year old – attacking midfielder Matúš Marcin.

We probably shouldn’t exaggerate the effect youth is having. Žilina, for example, are hardly dispensing with all their senior players. In fact, their youngsters must feel reassured by the experience and defensive qualities of centre-backs Jozef Piaček and Serge Akakpo and holding midfielder Viktor Pečovský. If the team is to retain its title this season, these three will have key roles to play.

Meanwhile, Slovan, the league’s most consistent team and thus current favourites for the title, rely on players who’ve been around a bit – Marko Milinković, Erik Grendel, Juraj Halenár – for their creativity and goals. They are also the Corgoň Liga club most likely to entice the best players of rival outfits, as shown by the signings of Hlohovský, Peltier and former Senica defender Nicolas Gorosito.

Yet it would also be remiss not to mention that, for all the tried and tested players in Slovan’s team, two regulars in defence, Kristian Kolčák and Lukáš Pauschek, came through the club’s academy. Teenager Karol Mészáros is currently making his way back after injury, but was one of the few to impress in the side’s generally dismal run-in to the end of last season.

Under-21 coach Ivan Galad recently named his 22-man squad for the forthcoming World Cup qualification play-off against Holland. Alongside the likes of Cardiff City’s Filip Kiss and Nuremberg’s Róbert Mak are 14 players from Corgoň Liga clubs, many of whom I’ve already namechecked here. It could be that a virtuous circle is beginning to develop. More first-team exposure for young players means more experience for the Under-21 team to draw on. If the Under-21 team makes use of this and does well, the next generation of youngsters might be more likely to consider staying longer inSlovakiato develop their careers. That would have a positive impact on the quality of the Corgoň Liga, hence better support from fans and sponsors.

We’ll have to wait and see if those things happen, but the presence of so much youthful talent may be what is making the league so unpredictable thus far. Vion had a slow start to the season but their form is now very much on an upward curve. The reverse is true of Ružomberok. Bystrica are regularly praised for the kind of football they play, while Trenčín are entertaining whether they win, lose or draw. Long term benefits are not, the youngsters are at least helping to make this season fun to observe.

James Baxter

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Oct 01 2012

Corgon Liga Update 30-Sep

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With all teams having played each other once, the Corgoň Liga season is now a third of the way through. Yet, Slovan Bratislava’s three-point lead at the top apart, no discernible pattern has developed yet. Just six points divide second-placed Žilina fromNitrain 11th. And Trnava, who last week looked to be launching a recovery from their terrible start, are once again in sole occupancy of the league’s relegation spot.

Slovan drew 1-1 at Banská Bystrica on Saturday in a game both coaches described as of ‘very high quality’. Certainly the goals, which arrived within five minutes of each other mid-way through the second half, were superbly taken. Erik Grendel spotted a gap between two Bystrica defenders, ran into it, and finished with the outside of his right foot to give Slovan the lead. Ukrainian striker Viktor Sachňuk then gave Matús Putnocký no chance after running onto a nicely-waited through ball. That goal gave particular satisfaction to Bystrica coach Norbert Hrnčár, who had selected Sachňuk following concerns over his team’s failure to convert chances. His opposite number Samuel Slovák felt Slovan had had the better of the game, but acknowledged the talents of the Bystrica youngsters. ‘I know a lot of them from the Slovakia Under-21s. I know what they can do,’ he said.

Košice’s Ján Kozák and Žilina’s Frans Adelaar were two more coaches in agreement following their sides’ 1-1 draw on Saturday. ‘I don’t think we’ve seen a game as good as that in Košice for two or three years,’ said Kozák. ‘Both sides were excellent,’ agreed Adelaar. Uroš Matič gave Košice an early lead after being allowed to run unchallenged to the edge of the Žilina penalty-area. Serge Akakpo equalised after 70 minutes with a diving header from Róbert Pich’s cross. Žilina will be the more disappointed of the two sides, having hit the woodwork twice. And, while they are the first team to earn a point at Košice this season, they will also be conscious that the hosts had been weakened by injuries, most significantly to playmaker Kamil Kuzma.

Vion Zlaté Moravce won for the fourth time in five games, thrashing Trenčín 4-1. Visiting defender Rodriguez Da Silva helped them on their way with a 13th minute own goal, after which Michal Škvarka assumed the leading role. On 33 minutes, the on-loan youngster turned brilliantly in the area before shooting home to make it 2-0. With an hour gone, his chip to the far post left Andrej Hodek with the easy task of heading into an empty net. Ľubomír Bernáth added a fourth, before Peter Mazan put Trenčín on the scoresheet. ‘All this game was missing was a 10,000 crowd,’ said Vion coach Juraj Jarábek. ‘Congratulations to Vion on their performance,’ replied Trenčín’s Adrián Guľa. ‘We were respectable sparring-partners in the first-half. In the second, they were able to play as they wanted.’

Spartak Myjava are starting to enjoy themselves at the top level. On Saturday, it was 0-0 after an even 65 minutes in Ružomberok. Then, the newly-promoted side produced a four-goal blitz. Goals from Peter Sládek (two, including a penalty), Roman Častulín and Pavol Kosík did the damage. Referring to Kosík and Michal Dian, Myjava coach Ladislav Hudec felt it was the experience of the substitutes he sent on in the second-half that made the difference. Ruža’s Ladislav Šimčo, meanwhile, described the result as ‘cruel’. He now needs to find a way to reverse his team’s fortunes ; they have gone six games without a win and are slipping down the table.

Prešov v Trnava made for an unlikely bottom-of-the-table clash, given that Prešov had not even conceded a goal in their previous home games, while Trnava came into the fixture on the back of two successive wins.  It was the easterners who prevailed, thanks to two goals from Andrij Ševčuk, another Ukrainian striker. In between his two strikes, Trnava did become the first visiting side to breach Prešov’s defence this season, through Erik Sabo’s penalty. Home defender Michal Krajník was sent-off for the foul that led to the spot-kick, but, as Trnava coach Pavel Hoftych acknowledged, Prešov still looked the stronger side as the game wore on. Perhaps Trnava were feeling the absence of Miroslav Karhan, missing from their line-up for the first time since his return to the club last summer.

Nitra have had a rotten two weeks since what we might reasonably call the ‘Seydouba Soumah affair’. Their two main shareholders resigned last week, apparently in protest at the club’s treatment at the hands of the SFZ disciplinary committee following the fateful Trnava game. A home fixture with improving Senica on Sunday failed to bring respite, as a 70th minute goal from Jaroslav Diviš earned the visitors a 1-0 win. The game also defied tentative signs of improvements in Corgoň Liga attendances, as just 880 turned up to watch it.

Banská Bystrica 1 Slovan 1

Košice 1 Žilina 1

Zlaté Moravce 4 Trenčín 1

Ružomberok 0 Myjava 4

Prešov 2 Trnava 1

Nitra 0 Senica 1

James Baxter

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