Oct 10 2012

Previewing Slovakia v Greece & Latvia

Published by at 9:56 am 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

One Response to “Previewing Slovakia v Greece & Latvia”

  1.   Jameson 11 Oct 2012 at 3:43 pm

    More of this talking to myself and there’ll be carting me off to an institution, BUT the Latvia coach has to miss out on the delights of Pasienky due to appendicitis.

    A couple of familiar names in the Latvia squad. Kaspar Gorkss of Reading, and Maris Verkapovskis, who must be pretty ancient now. Also Arturs Zjuzins, who played 3 games for Zilina two years back. I liked him – he had one great game against Kosice – but the club didn’t seem to share my assessment, and let him go.

    Prediction ; 1-0 to Svk, scrambled goal from a set-piece.

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