Archive for February, 2013

Feb 25 2013

Corgon Liga Spring Preview

Published by under Domestic

The spring phase of the Corgoň Liga is due to start next weekend. There have been the usual discussions about whether the weather will allow the first fixtures to actually go ahead, even though they are scheduled to take place one week later than last season. According to a survey in Šport this week, most of the clubs due to play at home are satisfied that their grounds will be fit. The one exception is Spartak Myjava, who say that they have already asked the authorities if their game with Trenčin can be postponed. However, in case they are ordered to play, they have had groups of volunteers in to help clear snow off their pitch. The following preview assumes that all matches will indeed be on.

League leaders Slovan Bratislava host Vion Zlaté Moravce, their nearest pursuers, in Friday’s televised game. Slovan are confident enough in their ability to fend off Vion’s spring challenge to loan them one of their players – Slovak Under-21 international Karol Mészáros. He has been joined by one of his international team-mates, Žilina’s 18-year-old midfielder Milan Škriniar, who swaps places with Michal Škvarka. Mészáros and Škriniar should both enjoy a good spring with Vion, but their new team will be clear second favourites on Friday. Slovan have not been forced to sell any of their key players and will be keen to extend their six-point advantage at the top of the league. When Seydouba Soumah is finally eligible to play (in mid-March), they will be even stronger. For now, a win by the odd goal will do them nicely.

Third-placed Senica are at home to Ružomberok, one point and four places further back (such is the congestion behind Slovan). The big question surrounding Senica is how they will adapt to their second new coach in six months. Zdeněk Psotka left in December to take up a director of football role with Sigma Olomouc. He was replaced by Vladimír Koník, who led Šamorín to a first-ever promotion to II Liga last season but has never coached at the top level before. Left-back Patrik Mráz, most recently of Polish champions Śląsk Wrocław, should be a good addition to the playing ranks. Ruža were over-achievers in the autumn, and gave the distinct impression that they didn’t welcome the arrival of the winter-break. Their last meeting with Senica, however, saw them give an uncharacteristically lame performance in a 2-0 defeat, so it will be interesting to see if they can do better on Saturday.

Košice currently hold the league’s best home record and should be confident of maintaining it on Saturday against the side with the worst away form – eastern neighbours Prešov. Košice will, however, have to get used to life without Dávid Škutka, currently second in the individual goalscoring charts, who has moved to Slavia Prague. And Prešov might be a tougher proposition under Ladislav Totkovič than they were under Angel Červenkov, his increasingly hapless predecessor. Totkovič led the side to two successive home wins at the end of the autumn phase, but victory for Prešov on Saturday would still be a perverse result.

Žilina have been busy over the winter. They have changed coach, sacking Frans Adelaar and appointing Štefan Tarkovič until the summer, and have been buying, selling, borrowing and lending players. The most notable departure is Momodou Ceesay, who teams up with Vladimír Weiss Senior at FC Kairat Altay in Kazakhstan. Arriving are Michal Mravec (from Dutch club Emmen), Dávid Guba (on loan from Prešov) and Tomáš Majtán (returning from a loan with Ostrava). Then there are the moves made to and from Vion by Škriniar and Škvarka. A home game with Banská Bystrica will be the first test of the new combinations. For their part, Bystrica will be hoping for a solid defensive partnership between experienced new signing Jozef Adamík and Slovakia Under-21 player Norbert Gyömbér, who will move to Brescia this summer.

The Trnava v Nitra game will be closely-watched, not only because it features the league’s bottom two sides but also because the reverse fixture last September turned into the ‘Soumah affair’. Yet there are other interesting factors too. For a start, the game will be played at Štadión Antona Malatinského after all, since Trnava have reversed their earlier decision to groundshare during redevelopment of the stadium. The reason for this, naturally enough, is that the club want to maximise their home support as they face up to a relegation battle. But it will take a considerable improvement on the team’s autumn form to justify the change of heart ; so far, Banská Bystrica are the only side to leave Trnava empty-handed this season. Trnava have been busy in the transfer market during the winter, with Ivan Hodúr and Ivan Lietava in particular looking like decent acquisitions. Nitra will be happy that Jozef Vukušič, who led them to successive home wins at the end of the autumn, is staying on as coach. Will he be trying to make use of any bitterness his players still feel at what happened last September, I wonder?

Myjava v Trenčin is another local derby, and another fixture that produced controversy last time it was played. Myjava might be well-advised to ensure it goes ahead on Saturday, since difficult playing conditions are more likely to favour them than their more technical visitors. They are also in need of points, as opposed to games in hand, to ensure they steer clear of the bottom of the league. Still, the squad doesn’t lack toughness ; Ružomberok’s muscular striker Mulumbu Mukendi recently described their central defenders, Martin Černáček and Roman Častulín as ‘definitely the hardest opponents I’ve faced this season’. Trenčín have to work out how to replace the goals of the departed David Depetris and the calming presence of captain Boris Godál, who recently joined Polish club Zaglebie Lubin. An assured performance – and a cracking goal from František Kubík – in a 1-1 friendly draw at Žilina last Saturday suggests they’ll cope.

Predictions

 

Slovan 2 Zlaté Moravce 1

Senica 2 Ružomberok 1

Košice 2 Prešov 0

Žilina 1 Banská Bystrica 0

Trnava 1 Nitra 0

Myjava 2 Trenčín 2

 

James Baxter

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Feb 10 2013

Slovakia Under 21s

Published by under Uncategorized

Wednesday may have been a mixed night forSlovakia’s senior team but it was a decidedly good one for their Under-21 counterparts. The Slovak youngsters defeated a strong Switzerland team 1-0 inValencia, thanks to a goal from Karol Mészáros, a product of the Slovan Bratislava academy who recently joined Zlaté Moravce on a half-season loan.

It is the latest in a series of fine performances from the Under-21s. Last autumn they contested a play-off for a place in the 2013 European Championship and, despite losing to Holland, played commendably in both legs. Last month, a two-match tour of Portugal produced 1-1 and 0-0 draws against the clever, technical hosts.

One lesson the young Slovaks have had to learn in recent weeks is how to cope with adversity. The squad was depleted by two distressing injuries in Portugal. Goalkeeper Dobrivoj Rusov (from Spartak Trnava) collided with a home forward while collecting an 11th minute corner in the first game and had to be substituted. He later started urinating blood and had to be rushed to hospital, where he was found to have contracted kidney damage. In the second match, Wolverhampton Wanderers forward Kristián Koštrna, a half-time sub, broke two bones in his lower leg.

Both players, naturally, remain very much in their team-mates’ thoughts. Indeed their misfortunes appear to have strengthened resolve within the squad. Much of the credit for this, and for the team’s results, is due to coach Ivan Galád, who recently completed his second year  in the post. Earlier in his career, Galád was a fine club coach, especially during his two spells with FC Nitra, when he always seemed to relish the task of plotting surprise defeats for supposedly ‘bigger’ clubs. A classic example is the 5-2 home thrashing handed out to Žilina by Galád’s side on the opening day of 2005/2006 season, still a vivid memory for many fans of the yellow and greens.

Galád has the ideal combination of intellect and practicality. He has a Phd, yet is far more down-to-earth than a lot of people who spend time preaching the virtues of ‘common-sense‘. Also, having taught in secondary schools and lectured at university, he understands the importance of communicating the right messages to youngsters. An acquaintance of mine who has spent time with the Under-21 squad could not praise Galád’s approach to his charges highly enough : ‘He knows when to be hard and when to be gentle. The players like him, but they know exactly what they can and can’t do with him. His boundaries are clear.’

The results of his approach, and not just the on-field results, appear to have surprised even Galád. ‘I was struck by how excited the lads on the bench were when Mészáros scored against Switzerland,’ he says, ‘just as I was struck by the pride all the players took in everything they did in Portugal. There’s a great spirit in this squad.’

One little illustration of Galád’s methods is his dealings with Norbert Gyömbér, Banská Bystrica’s Brescia-bound centre-back. Gyömbér had a high temperature on the morning of the Switzerland game and was withdrawn from the team as a precaution. Afterwards, Galád pointed out to him how well the Slovak defence had performed in his absence. ‘Look at how they kept a clean sheet without you,’ he said, before going onto remind the player how highly he is valued : ‘You’re part of the spine of this squad and one of the very best players we’ve got. Even your presence here was important.’

The benefits of the Under-21’s efforts can, of course, be felt elsewhere. Witness the way three of Galád’s recent charges – Lukáš Pauschek, Róbert Mak and Richard Lásik – helped transform the senior side’s display in Belgium. It’s not difficult to imagine that more of the current squad will soon be taking the big step up. And Galád himself, though there are younger coaches (he’s 49), could yet find himself in demand for bigger jobs. At present though, he seems committed to what he’s doing. The next European Championship qualification campaign will see him pitting his wits against Scotland and Georgia and attempting to go one better against Holland. The games, like Galád and his players themselves, will be well worth watching.

(The Slovak squad for the Switzerland game is listed below. In itself, it’s an interesting illustration of the different ways in which Slovakia’s young players are being developed. Twelve are with Corgoň clubs and all except the two goalkeepers have played for their first-teams on a reasonably regular basis. Kochan and Hrošovský play, respectively, in the Slovak and Czech second divisions. Two more are learning their trade in Premier League academies, while another two (Ambra and Vojtuš) are getting an early taste of foreign leagues. It’s an effective mix.)

 James Baxter

GOALKEEPERS
Patrik Le Giang (MŠK Žilina)
Tomáš Lešňovský (MFK Ružomberok)

DEFENDERS
Norbert Gyömbér (FK Dukla Banská Bystrica)
Dávid Hudák (ŠK Slovan Bratislava)
Jakub Bartek (1. FC Tatran Prešov)
Adam Ambra (U.C. AlbinoLeffe)
Róbert Mazáň (AS Trenčín)

MIDFIELDERS
Michal Škvarka (MŠK Žilina)
Jakub Paur
(MŠK Žilina)
Milan Škriniar (MŠK Žilina)
Matej Kochan (ŽP Šport Podbrezová)
Patrik Hrošovský (FK Ústí nad Labem)
Stanislav Lobotka (AS Trenčín)
Karol Mészáros (FC ViOn Zlaté Moravce)

FORWARDS
Jakub Vojtuš (NK Zagreb)
Milan Lalkovič (Chelsea FC)
Filip Oršula (Wigan Athletic)
Ivan Schranz (FC Spartak Trnava)

 

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Feb 07 2013

Belgium 2-1 Slovakia

Published by under Uncategorized

A fairly predictable result in Bruges and a Slovak performance which can be split into five quite distinct phases.

The first 12 minutes bordered on the catastrophic. First, the ball struck Tomáš Hubočan on the elbow inside the penalty-area. The referee awarded a spot-kick, which Eden Hazard converted. Almost immediately Róbert Vittek, making his 80th international appearance but his first for 17 months, had to be helped off the field after pulling a muscle. Martin Jakubko, the only real like-for-like replacement in the squad, had developed a fever after arriving in Belgium, so it was Michal Ďuriš who took over the lone striker’s role.

For the rest of the first-half, Slovakia were merely poor, but at least their luck improved. Belgium came at them as incessantly as ocean waves, but a combination of poor choice-making and some sturdy defending, especially from Martin Škrtel, kept the deficit to one. The visitors’ only meaningful attack of the half came two minutes from its end ; Dušan Švento whipped over an inviting left-wing cross but Juraj Kucka wasn’t balanced enough to direct his header on target.

That little contribution didn’t redeem Švento’s night. He had been tormented by Belgium’s right-sided players, by Kevin Mirallas in particular, so it was no surprise to see him replaced at half-time by Lukáš Pauschek. The Slovan youngster is a quiet, dependable type and his arrival helped make Slovakia much more secure. Other players, meanwhile, could count themselves lucky to get a prolonged opportunity. Viktor Pečovský’s first 45 minutes showed that winter warm-ups for Žilina against Podbrezova or Michalovce are less than adequate preparation for the task of tracking players like Hazard. Even Marek Sapara failed to reach his usual standards. After the break, both began to find their men with simple passes and, thanks in part to their efforts, Slovakia emerged into their competent phase. Not a lot was happening in attack, however.  Belgium were generally able to read Marek Hamšík’s attempts at killer through balls and Miroslav Stoch’s jinks inside from the left-wing. And, Ďuriš, for all his running, was still seeing little of the ball.

Then we had the really encouraging period. The key moment was probably the substitution of Stoch by Róbert Mak. Hamšík moved over to the left as the Nuremberg youngster took up a position on the right. Suddenly, the Belgium defence found themselves having to deal with a new problem ; a wide player with the pace, confidence and determination to get behind them. It was also an effort by Mak that necessitated the night’s best save. Sapara’s neat reverse pass found him in space, and his first-time shot was blocked in unorthodox fashion by Jean-Francois Gillet’s legs.

But it was yet another young substitute who scored Slovakia’s equaliser. Richard Lásik had come on for Hubočan in the 70th minute. With three minutes left, he was on the edge of the area as Belgium cleared a corner. Skillfully freeing himself from a defender’s attentions, he hit a low shot through the crowd in the box. Gillet seemed to be wrongfooted by a slight deflection as the ball entered the net.

Then, sadly, there was the final act. It would probably be unfair to suggest that Lásik got carried away after his goal, but he was certainly out of position as a diagonal pass found Dries Mertens down the left channel. Škrtel was obliged to go across and close him down, but Mertens had enough time to do what Stoch loves to do – manoeuvre the ball onto his right foot and curl it into the far corner of the net.

Friendlies don’t actually prove very much, but this one did underline something that’s been becoming clear for a while now ; thatSlovakiaare doing a decent job of developing their young players. Pauschek, Mak and Lásik all played important roles in improving the performance in Bruges. It’s probably no co’incidence that all have been key figures in the recently evolving Under-21 side.

As for moans and groans, I will never back down from the idea that Hubočan should not be moved from centre-back to accomodate Ján Ďurica, at least until Ďurica improves his distribution from the back and curbs his tendency to get involved in silly flare-ups. It’s also difficult to shoehorn Pečovský, Hamšík, Sapara and Kucka into the same midfield. Pečovský, though by far the least eye-catching of the four, is the most defensively reliable and has to play. Sapara and Hamšik have proved themselves to be international class and are also obvious selections. Shoving one of them out wide so that Kucka can play centrally does not seem like the right thing to do – at least while Kucka’s performances continue to be uneven. It’s a tricky dilemma though, as theGenoaman has drive, strength and (when he gets it right)  formidable long-range shooting power. Finally, of course, the curse of the centre-forward continues. Vittek may be fit again in time for the Lithuania game next month, but my inclination would probably be to start with Jakubko, the only recognised striker to register an international goal in 2012.

Of course,Lithuania will present a totally different challenge. For now at least, as joint-coach Stanislav Griga said after the Belgium encounter, the second-half in Bruges should make Slovakia feel good about themselves again. Though uncompromisingly honest about the first period – ‘we were as bad as against the Czechs, our movement was poor and we were half-asleep’ – Griga was encouraged by what happened after the break. Mak in particular, he added, ‘injected a current into us’. Whatever the next few months bring, Slovakia seem to have some talents to base their long-term future around.

James Baxter

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Feb 04 2013

Belgium v Slovakia Preview

Published by under International

Slovakia play their first game of 2013 this Wednesday, taking on highly-rated Belgium in Bruges. The game continues a year-long habit of travelling to play friendlies against some of Europe’s most difficult opposition. Since Vladimír Weiss resigned as coach last January, Slovakia have faced Turkey, Holland, Denmark and the Czech Republic away from home, and Poland in Austria. Not surprisingly, the results have been mixed, but a good performance is required on Wednesday to banish memories of the last outing, a dismal 0-3 surrender in Olomouc against the Czechs.

The Slovak squad has a largely familiar look about it, with three selections standing out. One is the only newcomer, former Slovan Bratislava and Ružomberok midfielder Richard Lásik, who currently plays his club football for Brescia Calcio in Italy’s Serie B. Aged just 20, Lásik is the latest player to make the step up from Slovakia’s rapidly improving Under-21 team. Indeed, joint-coach Michal Hipp says that his nomination was based partly on excellent references from Under-21 chief Ivan Galád.

Then there are two players returning to the ranks after lengthy absences. Dušan Švento last played for Slovakia in the pre-Euro 2012 friendly away to Holland, where, as a few days earlier against Poland, he gave a decent performance on the left side of defence. His return is timely as Michal Breznaník, excellent in the October World Cup qualifiers against Latvia and Greece, is unavailable because of injury. Švento was a wide midfielder earlier in his career and has even been used by his club, Red Bull Salzburg, as a deep-lying playmaker. But Hipp and Stanislav Griga clearly see him primarily as a left-back.

Finally, and hopefully most significant of all, there is the inclusion of Róbert Vittek, an absentee since the Euro 2012 qualifier in Ireland nearly 18 months ago . Vittek is Slovakia’s top scorer of the independent era with 23 goals, and his 79 international appearances make him the country’s second most capped player behind Miroslav Karhan. Since this latest call-up, Vittek has changed clubs, moving from Trabzonspor (for whom he was in a decent spell of goalscoring form) to fellow Turkish outfit Istanbul Büyüksehir Belediyespor. Given the recent trials and tribulations of Slovakia’s strikers, Griga and Hipp will be delighted to have Vittek at their disposal again. Martin Jakubko, who did find the net during substitute appearances in Denmark and at home to Liechtenstein last autumn, will also be welcomed back ; he had to miss the Latvia, Greece and Czech Republic games because of a broken jaw.

The selections of Vittek and Jakubko mean there is no place for Marek Bakoš. He drops to the ‘reserve squad’, where he is joined by certain others who failed to convince against the Czechs, notably Marián Čišovský and Karim Guédé.  But right-back Peter Pekarík, substituted after a ghastly opening 17 minutes in Olomouc, has been ditched altogether. On a happier note, Trenčín defender Boris Godál gets a first call-up to the reserve squad, joining club-mate František Kubík.

If Belgium are as good as everyone seems to think – and there are certainly some well-known names in their ranks – Wednesday will be a difficult evening for Slovakia. But they seem to perform better when they know they’re likely to be up against it. There is general agreement that one reason they started so badly in Olomouc was because they’d allowed themselves to believe they were the favourites, and that the hosts were the side with all the problems. The memory of going 2-0 down inside six minutes should see them come out in a more determined frame of mind this time round.  And once Wednesday’s over, we can start thinking about another game where Slovakia will be favourites, and a more important game at that – the next World Cup qualifier, at home to Lithuania on March 22nd.

 James Baxter

Slovak Squad

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

DEFENDERS
Martin Škrtel (FC Liverpool)
Tomáš Hubočan (Zenit Petrohrad)
Kornel Saláta (FK Rostov)
Radoslav Zabavník (1. FSV Mainz 05)
Lukáš Pauschek (ŠK Slovan Bratislava)
Ján Ďurica (Lokomotiv Moskva)
Dušan Švento (Red Bull Salzburg)

MIDFIELDERS
Vladimír Weiss (Delfino Pescara)
Juraj Kucka (FC Janov)
Viktor Pečovský (MŠK Žilina)
Miroslav Stoch (Fenerbahce Istanbul)
Marek Hamšík (SSC Neapol)
Marek Sapara (Trabzonspor AS)
Richard Lásik (Brescia Calcio)

FORWARDS
Martin Jakubko (FC Amkar Perm)
Michal Ďuriš (FC Viktoria Plzeň)
Róbert Vittek  (Istanbul Büyüksehir Belediyespor)

 

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