Mar 19 2013

Slovakia in Zilina

Published by at 5:25 pm under Uncategorized

Slovakia face two games at Žilina’s Štadión pod Dubňom over the next week ; a World Cup qualifier against Lithuania and a friendly against Sweden. Facilities-wise, Žilina is the only sensible choice of venue, not, of course, that this has stopped the SFZ using Pasienky over recent months. Results-wise, it’s a rather different story. Below is a recap of the last five international games played in Slovakia’s third (or fourth, depending on which set of figures you believe) city.

Slovakia 1 Chile 2, Friendly, November 2009

Nobody cared much about the result on a night which was memorable mainly for the atmosphere and the superb football played by the South Americans. World Cup qualification had been achieved just a month earlier and the stadium rocked (almost literally) all night in celebration. Even the odd non-native was happy to join in with the ‘who’s not jumping isn’t Slovak’ chants.

Chile, meanwhile, were mesmerising, playing the sort of quick, slick pass-and-move football that made Marcelo Bielsa’s reputation, and earned him a fan for life in opposite number Vladimír Weiss. Though outclassed, Slovakia scored an excellent goal themselves, and two former Žilina team-mates were instrumental in it. Peter Pekarík provided a perfect cross, Stanislav Šesták flashed home a header. Overall, a great night to be a football fan.

Slovakia 0 Norway 1, Friendly, March 2010

And a quick return to Earth. Weiss was unhappy with several aspects of this game ; that it followed just 48 hours after the annual Player of the Year jamboree, that John Carew didn’t play for Norway (Egil Olsen’s team had been invited because they seemed to offer good preparation for the World Cup group game against the similarly route-one New Zealand) and that Slovakia simply didn’t play very well.

Norway were tough, pragmatic and eager to prove that, despite failing to reach South Africa themselves, they were at least as good as their hosts. Morten Molskred’s 67th minute goal suggested they had a point.

Slovakia 1 Republic of Ireland 1, Euro 2012 qualifier, October 2010

Both sides had won their first two games of this qualification campaign, but lost their third – Slovakia in Armenia, Ireland at home to Russia. This was their fourth, and both were in an anxious, ‘must not lose’ frame of mind. This produced fare that could kindly be called workaday. If you like, it was goulash and dumplings against stew and potatoes. So it was fitting that two hulking defenders – Sean St Ledger for the Irish, Ján Ďurica for the hosts -should score the goals, both from corner-kicks.

The atmosphere was lively again, though, as 2,500+ boys and girls in green joined the locals in a high-spirited sell-out crowd.

Slovakia 0 Armenia 4, Euro 2012 qualifier, September 2011

Following another turgid draw with the Irish (0-0 in Dublin), Slovakia still nurtured qualification hopes going into this game. Weiss, though, was cautious, and quick to remind anyone who would listen that the Armenians had outplayed his team in Yerevan a year earlier.

The first-half was even enough but, once ahead, the visitors proceeded to cut Slovakia up with the speed and efficiency of a new office shredder. The Žilina crowd had been enthusiastic at the start, but most fans had long since made for home by the time the fourth goal went in.

Weiss was far more honest in his post-match assessment than some of his players, one or two of whom tried to blame bad luck for the defeat.

Slovakia 0 Russia 1, Euro 2012 qualifier, October 2011

There was still a theoretical chance that Slovakia could qualify for Poland and Ukraine before this game, but it would only be sustained by a victory. Weiss seemed to think the best way to earn the three points was to cling on at 0-0 until the 80th minute or so, then prey on Russian anxiety. The problem with such a philosophy is that it can be undone by a stroke of genius, orof good fortune, on the part of the opposition. Andrei Arshavin nearly supplied the former on a couple of occasions, but Alan Dzagojev did benefit from the latter when his 72nd minute long-range shot was deflected past Ján Mucha.

Perhaps it was a good thing that Russia won. 4,000 or so of their fans had somehow procured tickets for the game, and there were large groups in every section of the ground. They were equable enough in victory, but some might have turned unpleasant had the team been defeated.

James Baxter

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