Feb 10 2013

Slovakia Under 21s

Published by at 11:48 am 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

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

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)

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)

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


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