Mar 28 2013

Slovakia 0-0 Sweden

Published by at 8:00 am under Uncategorized

This game was a dead duck even before it started, killed off by a combination of the freezing weather, by Slovakia’s disappointing result in the ‘must-win’ Lithuania game last Friday and by the (entirely predictable) absence of Sweden’s star man, Zlatan Ibrahimović. Those who decided that Tuesday was a night for the fireside and the TV were the wise ones.

For the coaches, it may have been a useful exercise. Stanislav Griga and Michal Hipp made no fewer than nine changes from Friday’s starting line-up, in the hope of seeing if some of their squad players could fit into the team’s shape. On that score, there can be no complaints. Dušan Perniš did a solid job in goal, Lukáš Pauschek, Marián Čišovský and Marek Čech likewise in defence. Pauschek is a curiosity ; a perfectly respectable international full-back who cannot get into Slovan Bratislava’s Corgoň Liga side. Čišovský had little trouble with the Swedish forwards and did quite well in his wrestling matches with Jonas Olsson when the WBA centre-back came forward for first-half corners.

For the first 10 minutes, midfielder Richard Lásik, making a first full appearance, looked as if he might bring some genuine verve to the occasion. But then he picked up a yellow card for the kind of challenge that’s about as appropriate to the modern-day friendly as a risqué joke is to a puritan wedding, and settled for simply doing the correct things. Ľubomír Guldan was reliable alongside him. Further forward, Filip Hološko and Michal Ďuriš were diligent as wide attackers, but their best work tended to be too far from the penalty-area to really trouble the Swedes. Poor old Marek Bakoš, meanwhile, was a man-of-the-match candidate for his all-round game, yet failed to convert his side’s two best opportunities. He had a first-half header well-saved, admitting afterwards that he should have placed the ball differently. In the second period, he ran onto Dušan Švento’s through pass, but Kristoffer Nordfeldt was out quickly to smother his effort. This was simply good goalkeeping, as Bakoš readily agreed.

In general, Slovakia were disciplined and organised. But so were Sweden. What both sides lacked was the craft, or good luck, to get them through the opposing defence. This is, or should be, where Marek Hamšík and Juraj Kucka come in. In view of Ibrahimović’s absence, it’s nice to think that Slovakia’s Serie A players are not such prima-donnas that they won’t stay with their mates and put a shift in, even for a meaningless fixture. They played 45 minutes each, and did all they could. Sadly, that did not include the sort of brilliant finish or visionary pass that would have made the difference between a draw and a win.

Sweden were neat in possession on occasions but barely threatened the Slovak goal until the closing moments. Second-half substitute Erton Fejzullahu livened their attack up a little, while Jimmy Durmaz, another sub, nearly snatched victory in the last minute when, having burst into the penalty-area, he had his shot blocked by Perníš. The draw might not be much use to Slovakia, but defeat would have been genuinely unjust.

The 3,100 in the stadium clearly took the view that simply being there was enough of an effort. As such, the atmosphere was funereal. It would not be right to blame the fans themselves for this. The players, obviously, have reached the stage where they really need to improve their results, especially against beatable sides in games that matter. Then there’s the dear old SFZ. This wise body of wise men cannot influence the factors I mentioned at the beginning of this write-up, though that may, on balance, be a good thing. I somehow suspect that, if asked to choose between pleasant spring warmth and the numbing east wind as ideal conditions for a March friendly, the SFZ would contrive to opt for the latter.

But what the association can do is to think more creatively about issues like tickets and pricing.Slovakiawould struggle at present to fill any stadium, which probably means that charging 30 Euros for seats in the side stands is just a little over-optimistic. For the next home friendly, why not try a 5 Euro offer and see how many turn up? It would also be an idea to announce an exact date for the start of ticket sales and stick to it. The SFZ and their ticket agents failed in both regards ahead of the Lithuania and Sweden games, possibly alienating a few potential fans in the process. That’s before we’ve even mentioned words like ‘marketing’ and ‘promotion’.

That’s the kind of night it was really, one for airing moans and groans. Still, these should not be extended to the team and coaches. The players could have been an easy target but, while they may be struggling with a few of the game’s fundamentals at present, they are at least trying. The same is true of Griga and Hipp. They are constantly being asked why they don’t alter the team’s formation, but their stock reply – that the players are familiar with 4-2-3-1 and create chances with it – is, for the most part, true. The duo are now pledging to take a trip out to Turkey to see if new Slovak citizen David Depetris could be the man to provide a few goals. By the time he makes his debut (the next fixture is Liechtenstein away in June), the only memory of the Sweden game will be of the frostbite.  

James Baxter

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