Apr 18 2013

Slovak Cup Semis

Published by at 7:48 pm under Uncategorized

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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