May 03 2013

Slovan beat Zilina 2-0 in Slovak Cup Final

Published by at 11:35 am under Uncategorized

Cup games, and especially finals, are supposed to be unpredictable occasions where form can fly out of the window and odds can be defied. This was not like that. Unlike in the sides’ league clashes this season (which have resulted in three draws), Slovan showed exactly why they are currently so far ahead of Žilina. They have been better coached than their opponentsfor some months now, they were more coherent as a team, and they had better players in just about every position on the pitch. The 2-0 scoreline in Ružomberok was a fair reflection of proceedings.

The decisive goals provided a decent showcase of Slovan’s strengths. There was individual brilliance in their creation, and both were taken with the sort of ruthlessness Žilina haven’t shown all spring. The first arrived after 26 minutes. Marko Milinković stepped inside one opposing defender and outside another before stroking the perfect pass into the path of Igor Žofčák. The Slovan captain smashed the ball unhesitatingly past Martin Krnáč. Three minutes after half-time, Seydoubah Soumah prodded the ball through the legs of Žilina centre-back Jozef Piaček and Lester Peltier propelled it into the net with a confident sweep of his right foot.

Oddly enough, the second goal ushered in Žilina’s best spell of the match. On 52 minutes, Ernest Mabouka, who never tired of powering forward from right-back, saw a cross deflected onto the bar by a Slovan defender. Three minutes later, Issiaka Bello and Dávid Guba came on as substitutes for Jakub Paur and Michal Škvarka. Bello was quickly into the action, chesting down Miroslav Barčík’s pass and hitting a waspish shot from outside the box which rebounded off the inside of the left-hand post. It might – might – have been different if one of those had gone in, but my suspicion is that Slovan would have put their collective foot down again. As well as goals, they did, after all, ‘win’ in all the relatively meaningless aspects. They had 59% of possession, forced more corners and had more shots on target than their opponents. Žilina, meanwhile, committed a lot more fouls, not that any were malicious or that the general good spirit of the contest was in any way undermined.

The benches were another reflection of where these clubs currently stand. In Bello, Žilina did bring on a fine player, and one who has terrorised Slovan in the past, but it is getting on for a year since he played 90 minutes in a competitive game. Guba, for his part, has been a major disappointment since moving from Prešov in spring. Later, 18-year-old Peter Lupčo, a ‘veteran‘ of  three previous first-team games, came on for Róbert Pich. In contrast, Slovan replaced Jiří Kladrubský with Kamil Kopúnek, scorer of a World Cup goal in South Africa, and Soumah with Juraj Halenár (over 100 Corgoň Liga goals in his career).

All who took the field for Slovan played well, but Milinković and Soumah are both players worth travelling to see. The fact that Soumah didn’t finish the game might suggest he’s still not match-fit after his six-month ban, but, as well as creating the second goal, he provided plenty of excitement during his 72 minutes on the pitch. On the losing side, 34-year-old Barčík justified Slovan coach Samuel Slovák’s recent description of him as ‘still one of the best players in this country’. Sadly for him, not enough of his team-mates responded to his promptings.

All the post-match reaction, whether from coaches or players, showed a sound grasp of reality. Both Piaček and Žilina coach Štefan Tarkovič readily admitted that Slovan were better and deserved to win. It fell to Slovák to admit that ‘we had a bit of luck when they hit the post and bar’. The Slovan coach is, I firmly belief, a genuine ray of hope for football in this country, and not only for his unfailing good grace. He was an excellent player himself, he has coached at under-21 level and he has got his current side playing attractive, disciplined, winning football. Ten days from now, he will be celebrating a league and cup double and anticipating the Champions League qualifiers. If he can keep the team together, it will be interesting to see how much further he can take it.

Slovák and Slovan have plenty to look forward to then, but their impending league title will also be good news for Žilina who will qualify for the Europa League qualifiers as cup runners-up. Their run to the final has provided relief from a largely grim league campaign. Tarkovič, who took over from the sacked Frans Adelaar during the winter, has had a difficult time, but he can’t be blamed for the result in Ružomberok. His team selection and tactics were pretty much beyond question. It was just that, in common with his players, he came up against better opposition.

James Baxter

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