Nov 13 2010

Zilina v Ruzomberok .. focus on MFK Ruza

Published by under Domestic

Tomorrow Zilina face Ruzomberok in the league.  Zilina fan James Baxter is back, this time, he’s focussing on MFK Ruzomberok, and what a fascinating story ..

In common (I hope) with many football fans, I am something of a list-maker. But one list I have never been able to complete to my satisfaction is ‚best games ever seen in Žilina’. There is no shortage of top five perennials. They incude a thrilling, if controversial, 3-2 league win over newly-promoted Slovan Bratislava in 2006-2007, a joyful 6-1 destruction of supposed title contenders Artmedia later that same season and a tense 2-1 victory, earned with ten men, over Slovan Liberec in UEFA Cup qualifying in August 2008. The problem I have is whether any of these games should take the number one slot because they have an extremely worthy challenger in the form of a match Žilina actually lost, 2-1 to MFK Ružomberok on a spring evening in 2006.

A little background might be useful here. Žilina’s coach at the time was Croatian Marian Vlak. Vlak was loved by the Slovak media, largely for the fascinating insights he was prepared to offer concerning opposition teams ; their tactics, key players, strengths and weaknesses. He occasionally had to be reminded that his listeners would actually rather like to hear about his own side. Sadly, Vlak’s team won fewer matches on the pitch than he won friends in the press-room and, despite plenty of attractive football, Žilina were out of the title race by the time Ružomberok’s visit was due.

Ružomberok, meanwhile, were being run along more orthodox lines. With Trnava and Artmedia, they had formed a top three separated only by goal-difference at the end of the autumn period of 2005-2006 but had been rather written-off as genuine title challengers. Artmedia, as reigning champions, had the winning mentality, it was argued, while Trnava’s large, increasing support would be a major factor in their favour. Few arguments were made to back up Ružomberok’s claim. Yet they had a fine coach, in František Komňacký, and a talented, stable team. Prominent players included current Slovakia internationals Marek Sapara and Erik Jendríšek and Czechs Tomáš Dvorník and Ján Nezmar. The side’s form in early 2006 saw them open up a lead over both Artmedia and Trnava ahead of the Žilina game.

It’s often difficult, when trying to evaluate just how good a game of football was, to separate what actually happened on the field from the atmosphere off it. Certainly the atmosphere at Žilina v Ružomberok was almost unique in Slovak terms since the away following was not only numerically large and extremely noisy but also friendly and peaceful. Unlike when Slovan or Trnava visit Žilina, there was little need for a large, highly visible police presence. Visually, the visiting fans couldn’t be missed either ; almost all of them were sporting the garish orange shirts their side played in at the time.

But, yes, the game was wonderful too. Vlak had his eccentricities but he had his team well-motivated while Ružomberok just seemed to have an irresistible momentum about them. They wouldn’t lose, you felt, however well Žilina played. After 75 minutes of fine-spirited excellence from both teams, it was 1-1. Both sides would settle for that, you felt. Žilina could justifiably claim to have matched the best the league could offer, Ružomberok would still be clear of their pursuers. But, like the true champions they would become, Ružomberok had just that little bit more to give. They turned up the pressure in that final 15 minutes and ultimately scored a winner. A week or so later, they hammered Artmedia 3-0 to effectively secure the championship.

This lapse into nostalgia has been prompted by the fact that Ružomberok visit Žilina again tomorrow. Little is expected of them this time. A disappointing start to the season saw them dispense with coach Ladislav Jurkemík and replace him with Goran Milojevič. The latter’s first game in charge, at home to Košice last week, ended in a 2-2 draw. Perhaps the most striking thing, though, was the sub-1,000 attendance. Clearly, things aren’t right at Ružomberok and it’s not easy to work out why. Personally, while I didn’t expect a title challenge from them this season, I did think they’d be worth watching. In July, I saw them play a friendly against Leeds United. Fair enough, friendlies are a notoriously unreliable guide and, yes, Leeds were at the very beginning of their pre-season preparations but Ružomberok looked a decent outfit. Certainly, in playmaker Tomáš Ďubek and winger Ján Chovanec, they had two very impressive individuals. Ďubek has been injured since which is, perhaps, one reason for the side’s poor form.

All in all I don’t expect tomorrow’s game to challenge at the top of my ‚best games seen in Žilina’ list. Frankly, given what this season has so far offered entertainment-wise, I’ll be happy if it doesn’t join the recent 0-0 draws here with DAC and Senica in the hit-parade of worst games. 2-1 to Žilina would do nicely.

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