Tonight sees the 2nd legs of the two semi-finals of the domestic cup in Slovakia. I must admit when the two Manchester teams entered the field at Wembley last Saturday I felt a certain excitement at the fact the English FA Cup semi-finals now have to be decided on the day. No replays, just extra time, penalties, whatever it takes, there will be a winner.
Having attended the 1st leg of Slovan Bratislava v Spartak Trnava 2 weeks ago, on a pleasant evening, under floodlights, I can’t help but feel disappointed that these matches are played over 2 legs. Although the discussion over neutral grounds is a complicated one in Slovakia [last season Slovan & Trnava played the final on the other side of the country] the situation still exists that if Slovan make the final this season they will play on ‘home’ turf. However, with Slovan and Pasienky, home turf is a term that can be used very loosely, the fans hate the place and it’s hardly an intimidating atmosphere for visiting sides.
Also, a significant number of Spartak fans probably stayed away from the first leg knowing the real showdown would be on their patch 2 weeks later. Having said all this, the first leg was a good game, hardly a humdinger, but not bad, by Slovak standards. Slovan came back to 2-2 having gone 0-2 down, surrendering a slight advantage to their bitter rivals going into tonight’s 2nd leg.
In terms of form, Slovan should be able to overcome the slight handicap of Trnava’s two away goals. Slovan recently won 3-1 at Trnava in the league and are on a superb run of form comprising of 5 straight league victories. On paper Slovan have a stronger team and should expect to win again tonight, when it really counts. Trnava by contrast have realised they cannot keep touch at the top of the league and lost to bottom of the table Dubnica last weekend.
Writing this makes me realise that perhaps Trnava have targetted the cup as their ticket into Europe next season. If they haven’t, they bloody well should! Zilina and Slovan are locked in a high-pressure race for the Championship and Trnava could easily bring home silverware or, as their fans may even prefer, sneak into Europe just by making the final should they, as expected, face Zilina in the final [please correct me if I’m wrong!]
Slovan’s fans sense silverware this season, and will expect 100% from their team tonight, to keep alive an ambitious quest for a league and cup double. If Slovan do not give everything to win this match, I would expect serious questions to be asked as they have a squad with enough strength in depth to handle a mid-week fixture in addition to league duties at the weekend.
So, the tie is tantalisingly poised, and as is always the case with derby games, especially in cup semi-finals, anything is possible! It will be interesting to see the size of tonight’s crowd, and I fully expect them to witness a thoroughly entertaining match. Given a 2-2 scoreline from the first leg, extra time is unlikely, and the longer Trnava don’t score the more nervous they will surely become. I am confident Slovan will do the job tonight and progress to the final.
By stark contrast, in the other tie Zilina travel to Zlate Moravce with a 3-0 advantage from the home leg. Zlate Moravce, lacking a goalscoring threat, should struggle to get past Zilina’s tight defence, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Zilina win comfortably and extend their aggregate lead. This is a pity as it would have been good to see one of the smaller teams in the final. Zilina will arrive at Pasienky having hardly broken sweat in this season’s competition, MFK Kosice being the only top flight team they have faced prior to ZM.
My prediction for the final?
MSK Zilina v Slovan Bratislava
By Dan Richardson, BritskiBelasi