Archive for November, 2012

Nov 26 2012

Slovak Football Update 25-Nov

Published by under Domestic

The most important news of this weekend may not be the results. Two clubs, Trnava and Senica, appear to be proceeding with major stadium developments. Trnava plan to completely reconstruct Štadión antona malatinského, turning it into a fully-covered 19,000 capacity arena. Demolition work on the current ground should start in February, meaning that Saturday’s game at home to Ružomberok was its last. If all goes to plan, the new stadium should be ready early in 2015. Trnava will therefore be playing in exile for the next two years ; Pieštany and Senec have been mentioned as possible temporary hosts.

Senica’s plans are more modest, unsurprisingly as they are a small-town club who lack the support-base Trnava can call upon. They too are going to build on their current site, but in four phases, so that a temporary move will not be necessary. Work has already begun on the first stage of the development ; the construction of new stands behind the goals. This is scheduled for completion in time for the start of the spring phase of the current season.

I wouldn’t get too excited just yet, but these developments could be the best off-field news Slovak football has had for quite a while. Could it be that this month’s renewal of talks on a joint Czech-Slovak top division has sharpened minds at some clubs? Quite possibly, given that the Czech and Slovak football associations have both made clear that the substandard infrastructure at most Slovak clubs is a major barrier to such a project.

And so to the weekend’s football. Slovan Bratislava are clear favourites for this season’s Corgoň Liga title. Friday’s game, which didn’t even involve them, was a reasonable illustration of why. Žilina, the home side, went into it having failed to score in four successive matches. Winning the league appears to have become less of a priority for them than giving several of their promising teenagers an extended first-team opportunity. The visitors, second-placed Vion Zlaté Moravce, arrived on the back of a seven-game unbeaten run. Yet Vion were a let-down. Their passing through midfield was neat, even pretty at times, but they didn’t look like scoring until it was far too late and their defence was vulnerable every time Žilina attacked. Žilina won 4-1 thanks to two goals from Róbert Pich and one each from Milan Škriniar and Ricardo Nunes. Peter Orávik’s strike for Vion was barely a consolation. In the absence of Viktor Pečovský, 17-year old Škriniar took on the responsibility of holding Žilina‘s central midfield together and gave the latest in a succession of fine performances. He and his fellow youngsters will be thrilled with the result but will feel they deserved better than a crowd of just 1,190.

The other reason Slovan are favourites is, of course, their own form. Since their shock derby defeat by Trnava, they have won three games in a row, the latest of them being Saturday’s 3-1 success at home to Trenčín. Lester Peltier gave Slovan a half-time lead and they withstood some second-half pressure from their visitors before adding further goals through Nicolas Gorosito and Igor Žofčák (a penalty). There was still time for Trenčín’s David Depetris to score his 16th, of the season. There is continued talk of him getting Slovak citizenship and leading the national team’s attack – an intriguing prospect indeed.

Or perhaps Stanislav Griga and Michal Hipp will be giving serious consideration to the claims of Košice’s Dávid Škutka. A hat-trick in a 4-0 win over an admittedly hapless Nitra side took Škutka’s tally for the season to 13. His first goal had a large element of luck about it but the other two, both confident first-time finishes, certainly showed the sort of ruthlessnessSlovakialack. Serbian midfieldier Uroš Matič claimed the last goal with a fine long-range. strike. With 23 points from 9 games, Košice will go into the winter with the league’s best home record. Now if they could just improve on the measly three points they’ve picked up on their travels….

Prešov sacked Bulgarian coach Angel Červenkov during the week, appointing Ladislav Totkovič in his place. The initial effect, a 1-0 win over visiting Banská Bystrica, suggests the move may have been the right one. Peter Lipták’s deflected strike, just 12 minutes into the contest, was the difference between the sides, to the regret of Bystrica coach Norbert Hrnčár. ‘We conceded too early,’ he said. ‘Once they’d scored, Prešov had something to defend and it was hard going for us.’

Trnava will be fretting over the prospect of fighting a relegation battle in exile. As well as unveiling their stadium plans this week, they also moved coach Pavel Hoftych ‘upstairs’ to a director of football role, appointing Peter Zelenský in his place. Saturday’s 1-0 home defeat to Ružomberok will have shown Zelenský the extent of his task. The only goal was a route-one affair ; Mulumba Mukendi chased a long clearance from goalkeeper Lukáš Zich, brushed Marek Janečka’s challenge aside and slid the ball into the net. Thereafter, Ruža’s fifth clean sheet in nine away games was rarely in  danger. As for Trnava, a lame defeat like this in front of just 2,500 fans seems a sad way to say even a temporary goodbye to what has often beenSlovakia’s most atmospheric venue.

Sunday’s game, the Záhorie derby between Myjava and Senica, was won 2-1 by the visitors, for whom Peter Štepanovský and Juraj Piroška (a penalty) scored the important goals. Martin Černáček replied for Myjava, but their coach, Ladislav Hudec, readily admitted that his side were second best for much of the contest. The result does put Senica back on track after a sequence of four games without a win, but, as with Žilina and Vion, their challenge to Slovan at the top of the league has lacked the necessary consistency. Perhaps new-look surroundings will inspire them anew come the spring.

Žilina 4 Zlaté Moravce 1

Slovan 3 Trenčín 1

Košice 4 Nitra 0

Prešov 1 Banská Bystrica 0

Trnava 0 Ružomberok 1

Myjava 1 Senica 2

James Baxter

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Nov 13 2012

Czech Rep v Slovakia Preview

Published by under International

Slovakia say goodbye to 2012’s programme of international football with a friendly away to neighbours the Czech Republic on Wednesday. The game is, of course, a local derby and, since it is being played in the North Moravian city of Olomouc, not far from the Slovak border, should have a genuinely neighbourly feel to it.

The main discussion points surrounding the Slovak squad are the recall of striker Jakub Sylvestra, and Martin Škrtel’s illness. Sylvestr last represented his country in a Euro 2012 qualifier against Macedonia more than two years ago. Since then, he has had a somewhat troubled spell with Dinamo Zagreb but is currently in good form for his new club, German second-tier side Erzgebirge Aue. It is probably putting too much pressure on him to suggest that he could be the answer to Slovakia’s current goalscoring problems but, still aged only 23, his best years are surely still ahead.

Škrtel is suffering with a virus, apparently caught from his young son. His replacement in the squad is Marián Čišovský, who joins two Viktoria Plzeň team-mates in Marek Bakoš and Michal Ďuriš. Vladimír Weiss and Michal Breznaník have injury worries and are unlikely to play.

For all the local interest, you have to wonder at the point of international friendlies at this time of year, especially since club schedules in no way make allowances for them. Stanislav Griga and Michal Hipp arranged the Slovak squad’s initial together for Sunday evening in Senec but only eleven players were present. Even Žilina midfielder Viktor Pečovský, one of three Corgoň Liga players selected, would have arrived at the last minute, having just figured in his club’s Sunday fixture against Trenčín. But at least Griga and Hipp can go into the game in a fairly relaxed frame of mind. Czech coach Michal Bílek seems to have been under pressure since the day he was appointed and there has been talk that defeat to the Slovaks may see him sacked.

I wouldn’t care to see Bílek out of a job (from across the border, it’s difficult to see why he is quite so reviled) but one not so secret hope I do have for Wednesday evening is that the great and good of the SFZ look around Olomouc’s ground and feel utterly ashamed. The Andrův stadión is not the biggest or best the CzechRepublic can offer, but it is bigger than all Slovak venues bar Trnava and is better than all except (arguably) Žilina. It certainly puts Pasienky into its proper perspective. And, with a sprinkling of Sigma Olomouc players in the Czech squad, there should be something for the locals to get behind, whatever their feelings about the coach.

The Slovak squad is below :

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

Peter Pekarík (Hertha BSC Berlín)
Michal Breznaník (FC Amkar Perm)
Marián Čišovský (FC Viktoria Plzeň)
Tomáš Hubočan (Zenit Petrohrad)
Kornel Saláta (FK Rostov)
Radoslav Zabavník (1. FSV Mainz 05)
Lukáš Pauschek (ŠK Slovan Bratislava)

Vladimír Weiss (Delfino Pescara)
Juraj Kucka (FC Janov)
Viktor Pečovský (MŠK Žilina)
Ľubomír Guldan (Ludogorets Razgrad)
Miroslav Stoch (Fenerbahce Istanbul)
Marek Hamšík (SSC Neapol)
Marek Sapara (Trabzonspor AS)

Marek Bakoš (FC Viktoria Plzeň)
Michal Ďuriš (FC Viktoria Plzeň)
Jakub Sylvestr (FC Erzgebirge Aue)

 James Baxter

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Nov 11 2012

Corgon Liga Update 11-Nov

Published by under Uncategorized

After their surprising defeat at home to Trnava last week, Slovan Bratislava would have felt just a little trepidation about their trip to Myjava on Saturday. But they emerged with their lead at the top of the Corgoň Liga extended to three points, thanks to a 2-1 victory. Filip Hlohovský and Igor Žofčák scored first-half goals and, although substitute Zoltan Harsányi made it a nervous finale by pulling one back for the hosts, Slovan held on. Myjava coach Ladislav Hudec claimed afterwards that hearts were clearly beating fast on the visitors’ bench as his side piled on the pressure towards the end. Opposite number Samuel Slovák praised both teams, saying his own players ‘had to give everything to beat a side as good as Myjava were today’.

Vion Zlaté Moravce remain in second place but will be disappointed not to have returned from Prešov with three points. After a scrappy first-half, Vion took the lead six minutes into the second period through another long-range spectacular from Lukáš Janič, his third such strike in two matches. Prešov made two attacking substitutions in an attempt to rescue something from the game and were rewarded in the 77th minute when Vion’s Milan Bortel deflected a cross into his own net.

Senica were another of Slovan’s pursuers who had to settle for a draw, in their case 1-1 away to Trnava. Martin Vyskočil gave the hosts the lead halfway through the first-half, but Juraj Piroška equalised at the equivalent point of the second period. Senica coach Zdeněk Psotka felt it was a valuable point, especially as Trnava had the better chances towards the end of the game. As for the hosts, the result is good enough to keep them away from the bottom of the table for now, but their coach, Pavel Hoftych, felt it was two points lost. Trnava will also be disappointed that, a week after their win at Slovan, they were watched by just 2,909, their lowest league attendance of the season.

Košice maintained their excellent home form by easily beating Ružomberok on Saturday. Ivan Ostojič set them on the way with a header from a corner inside the very first minute. Ján Novák and Kamil Kuzma added further goals. Ruža coach Ladislav Šimčo, returning to his former club, couldn’t understand his current team’s over-respectful approach to the game, adding that Košice ‘fully deserved’ their victory. Košice’s Ján Kozák was more concerned about the suspected broken leg sustained by Martin Bukata. ‘He’d just got into the Under-21 squad and was thrilled about it,’ said Kozák. ‘I’d swap the three points for some good news about him.’

Nitra coach Ladislav Jurkemík was sacked early in the week, following the miserable run that had seen the side pick up just two points from eight matches. His replacement, Jozef Vukušič, might have hoped for a decent result away to Banská Bystrica, who have also been going through a spell of poor form. After 85 minutes of mediocre football, a 0-0 draw looked on the cards. But late strikes from Matúš Turňa and Tomáš Hučko (a penalty) gave Bystrica all three points. Their patience and battling qualities merited the win, according to coach Norbert Hrnčár. He might have added that the patience of the Bystrica players outlasted that of many fans, only 610 of whom bothered to turn up for the game.

The Sunday game, Žilina v Trenčín, kicked off at the unusual time of 1230. On the way to the ground, all seemed well with the world. It was an unseasonably warm, sunny day and the autumn colours on Dubeň hill gave the stadium an even more picturesque backdrop than usual. Then the game had to go and ruin everything. Trenčín started slightly the sharper, but were reduced to ten men after just 20 minutes when Aldo Omar Baez was sent off for a dangerous tackle. Žilina never found the cohesion necessary to trouble their visitors, however, and the contest petered out into a tedious 0-0 draw. Former ADO Den Haag player František Kubík, interviewed for this very site two years ago, showed pace and some good touches for Trenčín. For Žilina, only Serge Akakpo reached a reasonable standard. Credit, though, to the visiting fans for the reassuring words on the giant banner they unfurled. ‘You’ll never drink alone,’ it read.

Myjava 1 Slovan 2

Prešov 1 Zlaté Moravce 1

Trnava 1 Senica 1

Košice 3 Ružomberok 0

Banská Bystrica 2 Nitra 0

Žilina 0 Trenčín 0

James Baxter

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Nov 05 2012

Corgon Liga Round-up 4- Nov

Published by under Uncategorized

Footballing logic being what it is, it is almost inevitable that when the team at the top of the league plays at home to the one at the bottom, the result will be an away win. So it was on Friday evening as Trnava defeated Slovan Bratislava 1-0 at Pasienky. Michal Gašparík’sdecisive goal, a fine left-shot from just outside the area after 48 minutes, would have graced any game. Trnava were, naturally, delighted. ‘We would have been happy with a draw,’ said Miroslav Karhan, ‘so to win is fantastic.’ Slovan had no complaints. ‘Trnava played really well and never let us into the game,’ said coach Samuel Slovák. ‘They were more aggressive than us,’ added captain Igor Žofčák.

There was, of course, an off-field talking-point in the form of an 18-minute hold-up in the second-half, caused by Slovan fans throwing smoke-bombs onto the pitch. With no wind in the stadium, referee Vladimír Vnuk appeared to despair of the smoke ever clearing and sent the players towards the dressing-rooms. As they reached the edge of the pitch, however, visibility improved just enough for the game to restart. Players from both teams sensibly agreed that the delay neither benefited nor disadvantaged either side, though Karhan felt the game ‘lost its fluency’.

A characteristc of this Corgoň Liga season has been the failure of teams in second or third places to take advantage of a slip by the league leaders. Thus Saturday‘s 0-0 draw between Senica and Žilina, either of whom could have drawn level on points with Slovan had they won, was another predictable result. Žilina struggled in the first-half, ‘because of the wind,’ according to coach Frans Adelaar, but had the better of the second period. With Serge Akakpo missing from the centre of their defence, they will be happy with the clean sheet, if a little frustrated by a record of nine draws from their fifteen fixtures so far. Senica were affected byan injury to key midfielder Tomáš Kóňa, but their coach, Zdeněk Psotka, was satisfied with their all-round performance.

Vion Zlaté Moravce’s Juraj Jarábek must be the happiest coach this weekend, after a 2-0 home win over Banská Bystrica saw his team leapfrog Žilina and Senica into second place. And it was Jarábek’s decision to send on Lukáš Janic as a 65th minute substitute for Ľubomír Bernáth that proved decisive. Within seconds of coming on, Janic smashed home the opening goal from well outside the penalty-area. Six minutes later, another long-range effort from the sub put the outcome beyond doubt. Bystrica coach Norbert Hrnčár took no consolation from Jarábek’s words of praise for his team’s football. ‘The game’s about goals, not beauty,’ he said. ‘Vion scored two, so they won.’

Goals were expected at Trenčín on Saturday, as the league’s most productive strikers, the home side’s David Depetris and Košice’s Dávid Škutka, faced up to each other. Of course,neither scored and the game finished 0-0. Košice coach Ján Kozák felt that Škutka was denied by an incorrect offside decision in the first-half. As for Depetris, he went close with a headerin the second period as Trenčín gained the upper-hand. Košice will be happy enough with the result, even though they are still without an away win this season, while Trenčín may be concerned that visiting teams seem to be working out how to play on their plastic pitch. They have now won just one of their last five home fixtures.

Ružomberok seem to be getting over their mid-autumn struggles, a 2-0 home win over  Prešov giving them their latest success. Mulumba Mukendi headed the first goal after 33 minutes, with Filip Serečin wrapping things up midway through the second period. The only concern for Ruža was a late injury to Mukendi which meant they had to play out the game with ten men, having already used their three substitutes. Prešov coach Angel Červenkov felt his side contributed to a good game, but he could be forgiven for wondering when (or if) they will finally start earning points away from home.

Nitra look to be in dire straits following their latest defeat, 2-0 at home to Myjava on Saturday. Peter Kuračka scored both goals within the opening quarter of an hour. The visitors were barely troubled after that, at least until the 78th minute when Nitra were awarded a penalty following a foul on Brazilian winger Cléber. Cléber took the kick himself – and missed. There were only 392 in attendance, another discouraging sign ahead of the shareholders’ meeting on Monday, which, as coach Ladislav Jurkemík acknowledges, ‘could decide (Nitra’s) future’.

Slovan 0 Trnava 1

Senica 0 Žilina 0

Zlaté Moravce 2 Banská Bystrica 0

Trenčín 0 Košice 0

Ružomberok 2 Prešov 0

Nitra 0 Myjava 2

James Baxter

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Nov 02 2012

Slovan v Trnava Preview

Published by under Uncategorized

I got all excited about Žilina v Slovan last week, so it seems only fair to give this game the preview treatment too. One question is, though, what is Slovan v Trnava really all about? Is it a meeting of Slovakia’s two greatest clubs, the only ones to have had periods of dominance in the Czechoslovak era? Is it the metropolitan sophisticates against a bunch of fierce parochials? A minor suburb of Vienna against the Slovak Rome? It is any of these, depending on your point of view. It is also a genuine local derby, given that the cities of Bratislava and Trnava are only 30 minutes drive apart. But, from a pure footballing perspective, it is also the Corgoň Liga’s top team versus bottom-of-the-table stragglers. Slovan should win comfortably. But we’ll come to that later.

As so often in Slovakia, it is impossible to simply anticipate a big game of football without first having to trawl through some of the off-field nonsense. The build-up to this occasion has been overshadowed by an argument over its screening by Digi Šport, a Romanian satellite TV company, which, despite having only around 100,000 Slovak subscribers, holds the live rights to the Corgoň Liga. When Friday 2nd November was first announced as the date for Slovan v Trnava, there were protests. November 1st, All Saints Day, is an important public holiday in Slovakia, a time when many people leave the bigger cities to visit relatives in the villages. Slovan fans didn’t want one of their team’s biggest fixtures of the season to interrupt a long weekend. They threatened a boycott.

Totally understandable as the fans’ concerns were, the response of Slovan as a club illustrates why they are not much liked outside their own city. First, they asked Digi Šport if the date could be changed to Sunday November 4th. Digi Šport agreed in principle, but said it was up to Slovan to make the necessary agreements with Trnava. But there was a further problem ; Slovan and Trnava both had Slovak Cup quarter-final matches scheduled for Tuesday November 6th, away to Ružomberok and home to Banská Bystrica respectively. ‘Not a problem at all,’ thought Slovan, ‘we can write to those clubs as well, telling them we want the ties put back until November 13th.’ Thankfully for those of us who find such actions arrogantly presumptious, Trnava, Ruža and Bystrica all replied to the effect that Slovan should stick their date changes up the nearest dark orifice. So Friday it is. We wait to see how many Slovan fans turn up, but it does seem that the idea of a boycott has been abandoned.

On the field, the result of this fixture has often been significant. Over recent years, Slovan have tended to have a better team than Trnava, and their record against them in Bratislavamakes scary reading for the visitors. But last season, as both clubs contested the title-race with Žilina, Trnava held Slovan off with ease at Pasienky, earning a 0-0 draw and suggesting that they were likely to be Žilina’s closest challengers. That is exactly how things turned out. Earlier this season, by contrast, the sides met at Trnava’s Štadión antona malatinského, both having had an uncertain start. Coach Vladimír Weiss had just walked out on Slovan and been replaced in a caretaker capacity by Samuel Slovák. Slovan won 1-0 and neither they nor Slovák (since awarded a contract) have looked back from there. Trnava, by contrast, have never recovered.

Trnava’s season has been an unmitigated nightmare, and it’s hard to understand why. They finished second in the league last season, and midfielder Roman Procházka, who went to Levski Sofia, is the only significant departure since then. There have been suggestions that Miroslav Karhan, undoubtedly a big personality with his 100+ international caps and status as a club legend, has undermined the authority of Czech coach Pavel Hoftych. Other rumours point to a Czech/Slovak split in the dressing-room. Perhaps an emphatic Europa League qualifying defeat to a classy Steuea Buchurest team knocked the club’s confidence just at a time when it had serious hopes of group stage football. Or did the club miss the opportunity to add to its ranks the type of player that was missed even last season, ie one with genuine creative flair? What is not in doubt is that results have been dire, notably 0-3 and 0-5 hammerings at home to Trenčín and Zlaté Moravce. There was also a nasty incident after a recent defeat away to Košice, when a group of 30 or so masked hooligans greeted the returning team-coach with violence and threats.

Certainly, Trnava will need their fans to rally round them on Friday. And on the pitch, theirbig personalities, notably Karhan and captain Peter Čvirik, need to be at their dominant best. Karhan takes a mean free-kick, and the team isn’t short of height, so the aerial route may hold out some hope, more so if the pitch is in less than perfect condition (not really a big ‘if’, given that this is Pasienky we’re talking about and that rain is forecast). The excellent Nicolas Gorosito limped out of Slovan’s 0-0 draw at Žilina last Sunday ; if he misses out, Trnava might just sense a weakness in the centre of their rivals’ defence.

Yet Slovan seem to have most bases covered. Gorosito’s replacement last Sunday, Milan Kopic, slotted in comfortably alongside the impressive Kristián Kolčák, and it’s hard to see Trnava troubling full-backs Mamadou Bagayoko and Lukáš Pauschek too much. Indeed, these two will be marauding forward at every opportunity. There is slickness and creativity in the Slovan midfield, where Erik Grendel and Marko Milinković are in fine form, and Lester Peltier has genuine pace in attack. If I was a Trnava fan, though, the players I would worry about most would be Igor Žofčák and Juraj Halenár. The former’s return from injury has beenlow-key so far, but he is simply too good (at this level anyway) to be kept quiet for long. As for Halenár, he has last week’s embarrassing miss to make up for.

As a neutral where these particular clubs are concerned, I’ve never had a strong desire to travel three hours to witness one of their meetings. In fact, the prospect of getting caught in the middle of a spat between the fans (they really, really dislike each other) is pretty horrific.  Yet I wouldn’t mind finding a pub with Digi Šport, because this might just be a better, closer game than the league positions suggest. Even if it is, Slovan will still win.

Prediction ; Slovan 3 Trnava 1

James Baxter



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