Oct 15 2012

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

Published by at 5:52 am 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

3 responses so far

3 Responses to “Slovakia 2 Latvia 1 .. World Cup Qualifying Progress ..”

  1.   britskibelasion 16 Oct 2012 at 8:53 am

    Thanks for the write-up James. Still in with a shout then, although somehow I am not as confident about qualification as when the draw was made …

    At least the kick-off time was kind of reasonable even it the stadium was not. Qatar are playing Uzekistan in Doha today – a working day – at 15:25 hrs. Followed at 17:15 by Iraq v Australia in the same stadium. Great idea that – they must want to keep all the fans from the Qatar match in the ground to support the Iraqis … ????

  2.   britskibelasion 16 Oct 2012 at 8:55 am

    Been told by my colleagues here that most Qataris knock-off at 14:00 hrs .. hence the kick-off time, nice afternoon for some then ..

  3.   Jameson 16 Oct 2012 at 11:19 am

    I’ve experienced midweek mid-afternoon KOs in Sk as well, to be fair. Guess it depends on the local lifestyle as well. They sound like exotic games anyway, so I suspect I’d find myself making the effort….

    I enjoyed Sk’s performance on Friday but the failure to take chances is becoming infuriating. Man marks in Sport were interesting, they had Pecovsky joint MotM with Sapara (8pts each) but deducted Hamsik a point for his misses (he had 7). Pecovsky was nearly that good, but (IMO) shd have lost a point for the dumb tackle that gave away the pen.

    The points chucked away in Lithuania still grate with me too, they could do with getting those back tonight but beating the Greeks is gonna be a tall order….

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply