Archive for April, 2013

Apr 29 2013

Corgon Liga Update: Slovan close-in on title

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Slovan Bratislava should confirm their 2012/2013 title over the next 14 days or so, following Saturday’s 3-2 home win over closest pursuers Senica. Four successive draws had stalled Slovan’s momentum over recent weeks, allowing Senica to close the gap to six points. It’s now back to nine with just five rounds of fixtures left to play. The important action at Pasienky was confined to the second-half. Slovan’s goals were scored by Jiří Kladrubský,  Lester Peltier and Erik Grendel. Twice they were two goals clear, but substitute Rolando Blackburn reduced the deficit on each occasion. Slovan coach Samuel Slovák is refusing to celebrate, claiming that ‘there are difficult games still to play’. Opposite number Vladimír Koník, however, believes the race is over.

Vion Zlaté Moravce made the long journey to Košice and, to everyone’s surprise, earned their first victory of the spring. Andrej Hodek and Peter Orávik were the goalscorers, to the displeasure of Košice coach Ján Kozák. ‘For the first time since I returned the club, I have the feeling my players didn’t give me everything,’ he said. Vion’s Juraj Jarábek saw things slightly differently, suggesting that, at times, his team were kept in the game by goalkeeper Martin Kuciak.

The real excitement is at the bottom of the table. Trnava sacked coach Peter Zelenský during the week, appointing Vladimír Eckhardt in his place. Eckhardt could hardly have wished for a better start to his first game than the goal Ivan Schranz put past visiting Trenčín after just 3 minutes. Later, a dreadful mix-up between Peter Čögley and goalkeeper Miloš Volešák let in Martin Vyskočil for number two. Eckhardt felt Trenčín were the better team in the second-half, but was delighted with the result, which takes Trnava above Prešov on goal difference.

Prešov are the latest victims of Nitra’s tremendous run of form (five wins in six games), losing 1-0 at home to Jozef Vukušič’s team on Saturday. Peter Struhár scored the decisive goal after 55 minutes. Even bearing in mind the three-point deduction which will come into effect at the end of the season, Nitra now look reasonably safe. Prešov are anything but, as coach Jozef Bubenko hinted afterwards. ‘We’ve lost a very important game,’ he said. He will no doubt be aware that three of his team’s last five fixtures are away from home, a daunting prospect given their miserable record on the road.

Žilina fans have spent much of the spring wondering which is the bigger mystery ; their team’s complete loss of form, especially at home, or coach Štefan Tarkovič’s bafflingselections and tactics. Things suddenly came right on Saturday, though, as visiting Ružomberok were sent back to Liptov on the wrong end of a 3-0 defeat. Long-range shooting appeared to be the key ; Jakub Paur and Michal Škvarka both hit beauties from outside the box, and Tomáš Majtan got a vital deflection to Stanislav Angelovič’s 25-yarder. The result is fairly meaningless in terms of the league, but should give Žilina confidence for Wednesday’s cup-final date with Slovan. ‘I’ll keep my fingers crossed for them,’ said Ruža coach Ladislav Šimčo.

Myjava christened their new floodlights with an 8pm kick-off against Banská Bystrica. By 10pm they were celebrating Ľubomír Urgela’s injury-time goal, which secured a vital 2-1 win. Earlier, Bystrica’s Marek Šovčik had equalised Peter Sládek’s strike. Myjava have done themselves proud all season and should be playing Corgoň Liga football again in 2013/2014. Bystrica, just three points clear of the bottom two, still have a little work to do to secure their status.

Slovan 3 Senica 2

Košice 0 Zlaté Moravce 2

Trnava 2 Trenčín 0

Prešov 0 Nitra 1

Žilina 3 Ružomberok 0

Myjava 2 Banská Bystrica 1

James Baxter

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Apr 18 2013

Slovak Cup Semis

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Slovan Bratislava and MŠK Žilina are through to the final of the Slovak Cup, to be played in Ružomberok on May 1st. Slovan enjoyed the calmer passage, winning the second-leg of their semi-final with Košice 3-1 at Pasienky on Tuesday and thus completing a 6-1 aggregate victory. The easterners did cause a minor scare in the 20th minute of the second-leg, when Peter Gál-Andrezly put them ahead on the night, but Marko Milinković quickly equalised and Marek Kuzma and Igor Žofčák (a penalty) added further goals before half-time.

Sloven coach Samuel Slovák was delighted with all aspects of his team’s display. ‘We’ve played two very good games against quality opposition,’ he said. ‘In the second-leg, I gave opportunities to some players who haven’t had a lot of games. I was especially pleased with the way they reacted after Košice scored.’ Opposite number Ján Kozák was left regretting missed chances in the first-half of the first meeting, but admitted that ‘Slovan deserve to go through, and they were certainly the better team in the second-leg’.

Žilina had a much harder time reaching Ružomberok. They controlled most of their home(first) leg against Trnava a week ago and were leading 3-1 at half-time, but a careless finish to the game ultimately resulted in Marek Kaščák reducing the deficit. In Tuesday’s away leg, Žilina restored their two-goal overall lead through Vladimír Leitner, their remarkable veteran defender, who had also scored in the first-leg. But Trnava responded quickly through Ivan Hodúr and, with 35 minutes still to play, the tie remained wide open. Žilina held on, to the obvious relief of coach Štefan Tarkovič. ‘We didn’t play for the draw but I’m happy with it,’ he said. Trnava’s Peter Zelenský felt his players misunderstood his pre-match instructions. ‘I told them not to leave themselves too open in the early stages,’ he lamented, ‘but that didn’t mean they shouldn’t attack at all. Only after Žilina scored did we start playing.’

Looking ahead, both finallists have plenty to motivate them. Slovan are going for their second league and cup double in three seasons. Žilina, for their part, will be trying both to retain the cup and make up for a truly miserable spring in the league. The yellow and greens may also be after revenge for the 2011 final, played at Banská Bystrica. On that occasion, Slovan only lifted the trophy after a penalty shoot-out, following an exciting 3-3 draw. Last season’s final was also a thriller, Žilina edging out Senica 3-2 after extra-time.

Slovan will be clear favourites this time. Slovák, an unmitigated success as coach, has his team playing attractive and (most important) winning football. There remains a suspicion that their defence can be vulnerable but, with a midfield so capable of retaining possession and an attack which poses an ever-present threat, opposition sides haven’t had many chances to test the theory out. Injuries haven’t been much of a problem for Slovan either but, just in case, they have plenty of depth to their squad.

Žilina’s problem has been that they simply haven’t found the right balance going forward. A record of two goals in their seven league fixtures this spring testifies to the fact that they either don’t create chances, or they miss them. On the plus side, they do still have a reliable defence, conceding the fewest goals of all Corgoň Liga sides. Also, they’ve tended to save their better performances for cup games, or for clashes with Slovan. Their three league games against ‘Belasi’ this season, two of which were played at Pasienky, have all resulted in honourable draws.

Finally, I’d point to one more advantage for each side. Although the final is in Ružomberok, much closer to Žilina than to Bratislava, I suspect Slovan will have the edge in the stands. Žilina’s supporters have been apathetic for a couple of years now and are unlikely to travel in formidable numbers, or offer their team much coherent backing. Slovan have had poor support at Pasienky (only 1,066 bothered to turn up to see the formalities completed againstKošice), but a cup-final should stir their fans into life.

On the other hand, Žilina have a true talisman in Leitner. At 38, this may well be his final season but he is as likely as any of his team-mates to come up with a vital goal. He hit two winners in successive matches as Žilina closed in on last season’s league title, rescued a point against Nitra last autumn when his side was down to ten men, and put goals past Trnava in both legs of this year’s semi-final. Provided he’s fit on May 1st, I’m backing Žilina.

Semi-Finals

First-leg : Košice 0 Slovan 3

Second-leg : Slovan 3 Košice 1

Slovan win 6-1 on aggregate

 

First-leg : Žilina 3 Trnava 2

Second-leg : Trnava 1 Žilina 1

Žilina win 4-3 on aggregate

 

James Baxter

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Apr 15 2013

Slovakia Looks Foward to European U17 Championship

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The draw was made last Thursday for the European Under-17 championship, to be held in Slovakia next month.

The tournament runs from 5-17 May and compromises eight teams ; Slovakia, who qualified automatically as hosts, plus seven who came through a qualifying competition. The format will be familiar from UEFA and FIFA finals tournaments. There are two groups of four, with the top two teams from each going through to the semi-finals.

Group A will be based in Žilina (ie all teams will be accommodated there), with its matches to be shared between Štadión pod Dubňom and Dubnica. Group B’s base is Senec, the location of Slovakia’s national training centre, with games to be played in Nitra and Zlaté Moravce. Both semi-finals and the final will be held in Žilina.

Based on impressions of the senior game, Group B appears to be significantly stronger. Its four sides are Croatia, Italy, Russia and Ukraine. Group A contains, besides the hosts, Austria, Sweden and Switzerland. After the draw, Slovakia coach Ladislav Pecko appeared to feel that his team had been dealt a decent hand. ‘I’d rather be facing these sides than Croatia or Ukraine,’ he said. Yet it ought tobe pointed out that Slovakia have recently lost friendlies to both the Swiss (twice) and the Austrians. Captain Lukáš Haraslín says the team lacked movement against ‘quick and technical’ Switzerland, butwas happier with the display against Austria. ‘It was an even game and was decided by the only goal. We know what their strengths and weaknesses are.’

Slovakia will clearly not be among the favourites for the competition. To have a chance of getting out of the group, they’ll need to show they have indeed learned from the recent defeats. A little good fortune and some decent support from the Žilina and Dubnica locals won’t go amiss either. If they do miss out on a semi-final appearance, third place in the group is at least a passport to the world championships, which will be staged in the United Arab Emirates in October and November.

The bases and hosting stadiums look like decent choices. It is perhaps a shame that the tournament is confined to Slovakia’s western and central regions, but reducing travelling time was clearly a consideration here, especially given that there are only three days between the last group-stage fixtures and the semi-finals. Senec, of course, has all the facilities you’d expect of a national training centre.Žilina, for its part, is used to staging international football and has also hosted under-17 club tournaments in the past, in co’operation with former playing legend Marek Mintál. Dubnica and Zlaté Moravce are small but modern venues which always offer a friendly welcome. Nitra’s ground needs a revamp but the town itself is an attractive place, with a rich history, a few sights and good pubs and restaurants.

The potential is there for an enjoyable few days in May - for players, coaches, administrators and visitors alike.

Group A (Žilina, Dubnica)

Group B (Nitra, Zlaté Moravce)

Slovakia

Russia

Austria

Ukraine

Switzerland

Croatia

Sweden

Italy

Group stage fixtures to be played on the 5th, 8th and 11th of May. Semi-finals to be played on 14th May. Final to be played on 17th May.

James Baxter

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Apr 14 2013

Corgon Liga Update 14-April

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Little has changed in the Corgoň Liga. At the top, Slovan Bratislava are freewheeling towards the title, and there is still a survival battle going on at the bottom, one which may yet draw in more teams.

Slovan drew the derby match away to Trnava on Saturday. It was a game of few chances, though Slovan are the ones who had the best chance to win it, thanks to a 66th minute penalty. Lester Peltier saw his spot-kick saved by Dobrivoj Rusov, to the relief of home coach Peter Zelenský. ‘It would have been difficult for us to get a point if they’d scored then,’ he said. The game was matched by 7,011, the biggest crowd of the spring so far. Sadly, some of the visiting fans were involved in trouble. Three of them, along with one policeman, sustained injuries.

Košice and Trenčín, the 3rd and 2nd placed teams going into the game, also drew 0-0. There was little to get excited about here, though both coaches, Ján Kozák and Adrián Guľa, were happy enough with their sides’ performances. The result leaves both trailing Slovan by ten points.

Žilina have been the league’s worst side this spring, and suffered another defeat on Saturday, 1-0 at home to Senica. Žilina were appalling for the first half-hour or so but, oddly enough, the 35th minute sending-off of left-back Ricardo Nunes seemed to galvanise them. They were on top for much of the second period, only for two Senica substitutes to fashion an 86thminute winning goal - Rolando Blackburn converting Juraj Piroška’s cross. Neither coach was satisfied afterwards. Štefan Tarkovič felt that some of his players’ approach to the first-half was ‘unworthy of the MŠK Žilina shirt’. Vladimír Koník, meanwhile, was critical of Senica’s second-half efforts. ‘It was classic Slovak syndrome,’ he said. ‘The opposition were a man down, and we let our guard drop. I can’t be happy with that.’ Perhaps a look at the table, which now shows his team in second place, will cheer him up.

Banská Bystrica left it even later to defeat Vion Zlaté Moravce, Jozef Adámik scoring the game’s only goal in injury-time after a mix-up in the Vion defence. Until then, it had been a closely-fought battle on a mud-bath of a pitch. Visiting coach Juraj Jarábek felt his team did all they could, but added that ‘you don’t often see teams losing to last-minute goals like that, even in the youth leagues’.

Prešov are one relegation-threatened side showing signs of form. They defeated Ružomberok 3-1 on Saturday. Andrej Jakovlev gave them a 13th minute lead and, following Tomáš Ďubek’s equaliser, goals from Lukáš Hruška and Ján Novák secured the victory. Ruža were forced to complete the game with only ten men when Ďubek sustained an injury just after coach Ladislav Šimčo had made his third substitution. ‘That pretty much ended our hopes of getting back into it,’ admitted Šimčo.

Myjava and Nitra met in a Sunday lunch-time fixture, and produced the weekend’s third goalless draw. As the visitors, Nitra may be the happier of the two sides with the result, the more so since it extends what could prove to be an important little unbeaten run. Myjava, for their part, have missed out on the chance to pull further clear of their opponents in the fight for survival.

James Baxter

 

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Apr 02 2013

Peter Pekarik in Berlin

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Easter is time for a break – from work, from familiar surroundings and from Žilina’s abject failure to score goals. And there are few better cities than Berlin, even in the unseasonable cold. Football-wise in Berlin, my natural inclination would probably be towards Union but Hertha v Bochum at the Olympiastadion is definitely not to be sniffed at.

Hertha have a mixed history, so the inconsistency of their last few years shouldn’t be much of a surprise. A Bundesliga title challenge (and ultimate fourth-placed finish) in 2008/2009 was followed by relegation in 2009/2010, a season in which the Alte Dame failed to win a home game after the opening day. They bounced straight back up a year later, only to go down again last season, this time after a controversial play-off with Dusseldorf. This season, though, Bundesliga II is again holding few terrors. Hertha now look like promotion certainties, and the main question appears to be whether they or Eintracht Braunschweig will go up as champions.

A date at a Hertha game also means a reunion with right-back Peter Pekarík, one of Žilina’s best players of the last decade. As soon as he broke into the MŠK side in 2005/2006, it was obvious that Pekarík was destined for bigger things. He was decisive in the tackle, had pace going forward and, most importantly, was intensely focused and dedicated to improving. He was a near ever-present in Pavel Vrba’s 2006/2007 title-winning team, and played every game of the 2008/2009 UEFA Cup group-stage adventure.

A move to Wolfsburg that winter looked just perfect initially but, as his team-mates closed inon the Bundesliga title in the spring of 2009, Pekarík fell out of favour with coach Felix Magath. He was in and out of the side over the following two years before going on loan to Turkish club Kayserispor and then, at the start of this season, being transferred to Hertha.

His international career takes in 44 appearances since his debut in 2006 and he was Slovakia’susual first-choice at right-back between 2009 and late 2012. However, he appears to have been made the principle scapegoat for his country’s non-performance in the 3-0 defeat away to the Czech Republic last November. Substituted after just 17 nightmarish minutes of that game, he hasn’t been picked for the squad since.

Pekarík’s club career, though, seems to be looking tentatively upwards again. He has been playing regularly for Hertha this spring, putting in performances more reminiscent of hisŽilina days, and saying in interviews that he appreciates the atmosphere created by the fans who, he maintains, are ‘far more passionate’ than Wolfsburg’s ever were.

The Hertha support is certainly impressive, averaging 37,000+ for this season’s second-tier home games. The figure is skewed somewhat by the turnouts for the Union and DynamoDresden fixtures (74,000 and 47,000 respectively) and the Olympiastadion is, of course, a huge venue, providing more than enough room for most of the events it stages. As a first-time visitor there, your ticket isn’t only admission to a game of football. It also lets you into a vast open-air museum. Everywhere there are sights worth lingering over, and information boards telling the story of the infamous 1936 Olympic Games. At the western end of the ground, you can stand next to the ‘horse tamer’ sculptures and look across the Maifeld to the bell tower and Fuhrer’s grandstand, before turning back and reading the Olympic honours boards. These flank the torch platform, from where you have perhaps the best view of both the arena and itsmost impressive modern addition ; the roof added for the 2006 World Cup. Simply put, this is one stadium you really should enter the minute the gates open.

There’s not much to say about the game itself. Whatever plans the relegation-threatened visitors from the Ruhr had arrived with were rendered irrelevant by Ronny’s beautifully-struck free-kick for the hosts after just four minutes. Seconds after half-time, Nico Schulz added a second goal after the Bochum defence had basically waved him through to a one-on-one with their goalkeeper. 2-0, and that, effectively, was that. Several Hertha players, most notably the scorers, centre-back Fabian Lustenberger and captain Peter Niermayer, looked way too good for second-tier football. Generally, in fact, you sensed that the home team wasin economy mode. They could have scored more goals if they’d really wanted to, but they seemed more concerned to save energy for next week’s potential title showdown with Braunschweig.

Once the final whistle had gone, it became clear that the Olympiastadion is also a place to linger after the game, to clap the players on their celebratory tour of the pitch (even after a routine win) and then to analyse the 90 minutes over a couple of pints at the refreshment stands. I don’t suppose Pekarík’s performance was the hottest of topics as the beers slipped down, but he’d acquitted himself well, always offering an outlet when Hertha moved forward down the right. He also foiled one of Bochum’s more dangerous forays when he bravely got in the way of a second-half effort from Yusuke Tasaka. When (I don’t think it’s an ‘if’) Hertha get promoted, they and Pekarík will have the same aims for next season ; to reconsolidate at the top level. Hopefully, they’ll succeed together.

James Baxter

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