Slovakia 1-0 Andorra; just enough, but coach Weiss unhappy
The weather in Bratislava on Saturday had been 30+C all day, but it became increasingly obvious throughout the day that by evening this match-being played at the 80% roofless Pasienky-would be hit by thunderstorms. It was just a question of how wet were going to get in the stands, and how much this might affect the play on the pitch.
Once again, Weiss surprised us all with the following selection:
Seemingly maximising attacking potential from the start, this 4-3-3 looking line-up included in-form Filip Sebo, alongside Filip Holosko and Robert Vittek upfront. A midfield trio of Hamsik, Kucka and Jez looks, on paper at least, balanced, strong and varied. Along with wing-backs willing to get forward at any opportunity, you couldn’t ask for more in terms of intent from Weiss. You even have a play-maker, Miroslav Karhan, playing in defence, as correctly predicted by James Baxter. Surprise omissions on the night were Erik Jendrisek & Erik Čikoš but all things considered, I was fairly confident that this team could deliver the 3 points and 3 goals which Weiss had been calling for pre-match.
The ground was no fuller than for a big Slovan league game, with the attendance swelled significantly by the ‘Slovenski Representantit Detom’ behind the far goal. In a move presumably organised by the SFZ, some several hundred school-kids were in nice and early in their white-blue-red co-ordinated t-shirts. It’s great to see children being encouraged to attend the match, but we should remember that this will have significantly added to the attendance, which at 4,200 for a competitive match in the capital is dire. ”The weather conditions played a big role” they might say, true, but providing a stadium with decent vantage points, some level of comfort and a roof might also play a big role. Ho-hum.
Slovakia attacked the far-goal and once again, I think I will leave most of the tactical analysis of this match to readers who may have been watching at home and be better placed to offer constructive comments than myself. As usual at Pasienky, I could blame the vantage point or the 10 minutes spent trying to get a beer, but honestly I can’t think of much to say about the first half. Maybe I should start paying for the better seats, but at €15 or €25 -by local standards- this is quite an outlay.
The Slovakia formation seemed disjointed at times, hard to fathom whether Holosko and Vittek were actually playing up front, or hanging back / drifting wide. Most of the attacking intent seemed to come through Marek Cech down the wing and it was hard to see exactly where Hamsik fitted into things.
Sebo did look sharp up front, he made plenty of runs and was always causing headaches for the defenders but the lack of coherency between him, his fellow attackers and the midfielders meant that any chances were created more by luck than anything else. Andorra were exactly what we expected them to be, defensive, solid, hard to break-down but offering nothing up front. A goal-less first half surely meant for some changes and stern words from Weiss at half time. Unfortunately, as I was looking forward to seeing him play, Juraj Kucka was also larely anonymous and his disappointing performance was ended after 46 minutes with another more attack-minded player, Stanislav Sestak coming on. Hamsik stayed on, of course.
As the second half started the pressure built, on both teams, it seemed. Slovakia were effectively camped in the Andorra half and pass the ball around neatly, but there was just no cutting edge from open play and even Sebo stopped running after a while. Statistics of 72% possession to the home team and just 1 shot from Andorra [I think that went out for a throw-in] tell the story, but as does the final score-line of 1-0. Hamsik had been taking the corners from right in front of us in the 2nd half and what a disaster that was. Every corner the same, limply arriving somewhere on the corner of the 6 yard box, far too low for a header. How easy to defend, but finally after 63 minutes, the break through came, again from a Hamsik corner delivered to the same area, this time Vittek got there soon enough to impede the defender and the ball came out invitingly for Miroslav Karhan to volley emphatically into the top corner. Unstoppable, excellent finish from Karhan and it was pleasing to see the joy on his, and Sebo’s faces while celebrating. Pity I can’t say the same for Hamsik, who barely broke stride from his follow-through from the corner to pat his team mates on the head as they happened to be celebrating there anyway.
In spite of the break-through Andorra remained steadfast in defence and Slovakia even struggled to create many more chances. The introduction of Slovan captain Igor Zofcak on 74 minutes was pleasing for the local fans, but this was perhaps a little late for Zofcak to affect any kind of influence on the match. Still it is a pity that the only goal in a match like this came from a 34-year old veteran of over 100 National team caps. Equally disappointing is that although it was a great goal, it resulted from a set-play, exactly the same way the only goal was scored in the away fixture. Please, don’t credit Hamsik with the assist on this one.
Just a couple of further remarks on individual performances; Robert Jez was clearly the best player on show, the way he holds his head up with the ball at his feet and distributes so accurately and naturally shows he clearly has a big future with the National team. He is one of the few players who seems to stick to his pre-determined role rather than wandering off with other ideas. The fact both he and Kucka started in a match where Slovakia were clear favourites should also bode well for when they will need to concentrate more on the defence. Expect to see much more of Jez and a well deserved man of the match award here tonight. Secondly, can anyone offer any explanation of why Robert Vittek stayed on for 90 minutes?
By Dan Richardson, BritskiBelasi