Dec 17 2012

Slovakia Review of 2012

Published by at 8:04 am under Uncategorized

Domestic and European seasons do not, of course, correspond with calendar years. So we have examples of sides doing well in spring 2012 only to disappoint in the autumn (Žilina, Trnava) or vice versa (Slovan, Košice).  Clubs who will look back upon the year as a whole with satisfaction include Trenčín and Senica. The former have adapted well to the loss of key attacking players over the summer, the former to a change of coach. Myjava, last season’s II Liga champions, would be reviewing the year with unmitigated delight, had it not been for the last four games. Prešov and Banská Bystrica, meanwhile, will just be happy to wave 2012 goodbye.

European club football did not bring Slovakia much joy in 2012. The country’s four representatives were all out of contention for group stage places by mid-August. It wasn’t a case of poor performances as much as narrowly failing to get the edge in tight contests, as with Žilina and Slovan, or, in the cases of Trnava and Senica, coming up against teams with that bit more quality.

TheSlovakianational team has had an eventful, yet inconclusive, 12 months. First, coach Vladimír Weiss departed in January. The SFZ then set off on a bungled pursuit of the man they wanted to replace him – Plzeň‘s Pavel Vrba. Meanwhile, Weiss’s assistant Michal Hipp oversaw one game as caretaker coach, a 2-1 friendly win in Turkey. This appeared to persuade the SFZ that he should be given an enhanced role in the new set-up. In April, when it had finally become clear that Vrba was unavailable, Hipp was duly appointed joint-coach, together with Stanislav Griga.

Griga and Hipp have experienced mixed results. Seven points from four World Cup qualifying games is at least one point fewer than they would reasonably have hoped for by this stage. Yet the one defeat in Group G, at home toGreece, came in spite of the team’s best performance since the win overItalyin the 2010 finals. The international year ended on a decidedly bad note, though, as the joint-coaches declared that there were ‘absolutely no positives’ to draw from a 3-0 friendly loss to neighbours theCzech Republic.

The coaches should be given credit for introducing new players who might well have been ignored had Weiss remained in charge. Some, notably Michal Breznaník and Viktor Pečovský, have been definite successes. The recall of Martin Jakubko, who had retired after the 2010 World Cup, was also a good move, though its effects were sadly scuppered by the broken jaw the striker sustained prior to the Latvia and Greece games. Griga and Hipp know better than anyone that their problems lie in the team’s inability to score goals. Plzeň forward Marek Bakoš, another player given his first opportunity since Weiss’s exit, has not yet proved to be the answer.

Off the field, there has been the usual talk of stadiums, and ofSlovakia’s best club sides joining their Czech counterparts in a combined top division. While the new national stadium remains a distant dream, Trnava and Senica are seemingly committed to starting redevelopment on their grounds in February 2013. Such developments are essential at more clubs if the Czech-Slovak league is to happen, since the Czechs now have strict ground-grading criteria.

So what has been good in Slovak football in 2012? The Žilina v Trnava title-decider in April, watched by 8,000+, was certainly the kind of occasion we could do with more of. And some ofSlovakia’s performances (againstGreece, inTurkey, the second-half of August’s friendly inDenmark) were reminders of how good the team can be. But, for me at least, 2012 saved its best till last. Ružomberok’s 2-2 draw with Slovan in the final round of autumn fixtures was as good a game as I’ve ever seen inSlovakia. The ingredients were all there ; a home side committed to making the best of its limited resources against more talented, experienced visitors, four superb goals, some great saves, a referee happy to let the game flow. There was even that rare thing in this country – a bit of atmosphere in the stands. Šport rightly awarded six stars out of six.

As for negatives, well, the balls-up the SFZ made of trying to recruit Vrba was exasperating, if not surprising. There were also some unpleasant off-field incidents, notably Slovan fans racially abusing Žilina’s black players at April’s league fixture and Trnava hooligans attacking their club’s team-coach as it returned from a Friday night defeat at Košice in October. The Seydouba Soumah saga takes the ‘prize’ here, however, largely because of the unresolved issues which still surround it. Foremost among these is the question of whether or not Soumah was, as he claimed, subjected to racial taunts from Trnava players prior to his sending-off. More on the Soumah story (it’s a complicated one) can be read at the link below :

 Followers of Slovak football learn not to get too optimistic, so my hopes for 2013 are, I think, suitably modest. Firstly, I hope Trnava and Senica do what they say they’re going to do and proceed with their stadium plans. Secondly, I’d like to see at least one of the six teams behind Slovan in the league give the leaders a real title contest in spring. Better results in European club competition would be nice. And I wish Griga and Hipp the very best in their quest to find what Griga calls a goalscoring ‘shark’. If they succeed, World Cup qualification might not be entirely out of the question.

 James Baxter

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