Oct 17 2012

World Cup Qualifying: Slovakia 0-1 Greece

Published by at 11:10 am 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

One Response to “World Cup Qualifying: Slovakia 0-1 Greece”

  1.   Fat Eckon 26 Oct 2012 at 7:02 pm

    Great read, as always, James – too bad it’s about such a frustrating spell for Slovakia, particularly in front of goal, but you know Griga gets no sympathy from a Scotland supporter on that front! :-) Two goals in one match??!! can’t remember what it’s like to see my national team bag a brace :-(

    But, yeah, both Griga and yourself are spot-on about the Greeks: Sharks is exactly what they are and, personally, I’ve always had more trust in people who wanted to study sharks than the plastic hippy types who want to swim with dolphins :-)

    Dolphins beat up porpoises – actually bully them to death for sheer fun – while the world thinks they’re cuddly, soulful creatures. Sharks just do what they have to do to survive – yet are almost universally despised. Brazil and Holland are two of the most viciously physical sides in the history of the game – their players have perpetrated some brutal assaults on fellow pros down the decades – but their “jogo bonito” and “total voetball” espousals augment their more aesthetically pleasing moments to distract from their crimes like the relentlessly anthropomorphised smiling curve of a dolphin’s mouth.

    No, I’ve not been drinking – I don’t need to be drunk or stoned to let a metaphor run away from me – and I’m not about to go into the childhood incident which led to my serious dislike of dolphins. That’s personal. But what I want to say is that I 100% sympathise with Slovakia’s problems while 100% admiring Greece’s world class pragmatism. Greece are absolute bas*ards to play against – but it’s mostly down to their steadfast concentration and what makes me admire them is the way they’ve proved that basic skill sets, by international standards, can take you all the way – to ultimate glory – if you have the belief, nous, organisation, fitness and tactical acuity to go with it. These are all thinsg which can be taught – you don’t need a Xavi, iniesta, Maradona or Pele to touch the heights of the int’l game and it’s killing me that so many proud football nations don’t realise this. Yes, I’m going off on one because of Scotland, James – sorry – because Scotland have been AWFUL recently and after just 4 games are already OUT of Brazil2014. Sorry mate but Slovakia’s woes parallel ours in SO MANY ways that i caouldn’t help using events in Bratislava as a starter for ten, with the hope my rant applies to Griga and his guys as my excuse.

    It’s a testament to your site and to Griga that you both asess Greece fairly. I’ve spent the last 8 years listening to the rest of football punditry paint them as satan’s spawn, when they should actually be an inspiration. The hair-pulling, spitting and general nastiness which infuses Greek soccer culture is unacceptable but, well, the most famous spitting in a World Cup finals did not come from a Hellenic gob. And anyone who truly loves their football can appreciate, like the marine biologist who worships the shark’s beautiful ruthlessnes, that Greece are FASCINATINg and exhilirating to watch in the way they make so many silk purses from so many small pigs ears.

    I find it very difficult to stomach the worthy preaching about “style” which seemed to begin with Holland after their disrespectful attempts to showboat in the 1974 World Cup final let the Germans defeat them and has been translated, via Cruyff, through the Xavi loud-hailer, into the post-match reaction to every Barcelona defeat of the 21st century.Football, for me, is about making the most of what you’ve got. If Greece tried to play like Barcelona or Spain they’d get destroyed because they don’t have the players (because the Greek FA doesn’t, unlike Spain, have access to the production line of the two richest clubs on the planet) and I know very few fanms who want to see their team do anything other than try their best to win. As long as their team is doing that fairly then there is something intrinsically gorgeous to watch in them – just as there is something inately unsportsmanlike in claiming your keep-ball stinginess is “attacking football” simply because you do it on the edge of your opponents box instead of in your own half. A 1-0, is a 1-0, is a 1-0 and Spain won the last World Cup by scoring fewer times than any previous World Champion.

    Phew! Sorry, mate. thanks for letting me share. I can relax a bit now. I really hope SLovakia do it – unlike Scotland there really is plenty hope for them, especially when Griga is admitting what’s wrong, rather than claiming his side has been unlucky and blaming it on the ref like certain other international managers who could be getting sacked at a meeting in Glasgow next week.

    PS – can’t believe Big Fil is putting pay before play. After his time in Glasgow I thought he’d just be relieved to finally be getting a regular game and some fan love.

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