Match review: Slovakia 1- 2 Denmark

James Baxter of Britski Belasi travelled to Trnava from Zilina in search of answers to some fundamental questions surrounding International football in Slovakia at the moment; namely Where, Who and How should the National Team be playing?

I ended the previous preview wondering how the Slovak national team and Trnava would get on together so I suppose we should deal with that issue first. If a certain weariness is apparent in these words, it is because, as ever with the SFZ and Slovak football, there is a background story, one involving resignations, accusations and counter-accusations. The task of getting to the heart of it all is likely to prove about as rewarding as attempting to uncover the origins of a squabble between five-year olds.

Certain facts, at least, are clear. Trnava last hosted an international game in autumn 2007 and it was an inauspicious occasion, Slovakia losing to 5-2 to Wales (yes, Wales) in front of a crowd of just 5,000. Since then, Žilina has staged three national team matches, two of which sold out. Last October, MŠK Žilina owner Jozef Antošík was elected to the position of international representative at the SFZ but resigned earlier this month amid claims that he was attempting to make his club’s ground Slovakia’s temporary national stadium.

As with any childish row, there would seem to be rights and wrongs on both sides. Žilina‘s Štadión pod Dubňom has excellent facilities and the local people seem to enjoy watching the national team. The capacity crowds for the Chile friendly in November 2009 and the qualifier against Ireland last October do, however, suggest that the ground was becoming a victim of its own success and that it might be too small to manage the potentially huge game coming up this autumn against Russia.

Trnava’s Štadión Antona Malatinského offers a potential solution. It can hold 7,000 more than pod Dubňom and can generate as fine an atmosphere. Its location, close to Bratislava, is also an advantage ; visiting teams flying to the Slovak capital or Vienna can have few objections to the distance from airport to this venue. If, and it is an if, Antošík was attempting to deny Trnava the chance to hold international games, he was showing favouritism to his own club and thus it is probably a good thing that he has resigned. Yet it now seems that, in promoting Trnava, the SFZ are shutting Žilina out. Their plan for the coming months, at least as it comes across in the media, has Trnava staging not only the Russia game but the Armenia one as well. Žilina is barely mentioned.

This seems unwise to me. Žilina’s ground has limitations but has proved itself as an international venue while Trnava’s hasn’t, as yet. It seems clear that, with a national stadium in Bratislava still a long way off, both grounds are needed and thus the row between Antošík and his opponents needs sorting out. It is necessary, then, for someone to do what any reasonable adult would do with silly kids ; tell them all to stop making spectacles of themselves and start playing together again.

As for last night’s game, let’s be honest, it attracted an extremely disappointing attendance. Slovakia haven’t been playing particularly well lately but Denmark are attractive opposition and it was a very pleasant spring evening. If fewer than 5,000 can be bothered to turn up given those factors, you do wonder whether international games in Trnava will never draw the numbers that attend them in Žilina, let alone full-houses.

On the other hand, there were signs that those who were present last night were attempting to establish a bond between themselves and the Slovakia players. The atmosphere was hardly fervent but it was mostly supportive, especially when the home team were trying to get back into the game after conceding an unfortunate early goal.

The crowd also displayed a fundamental decency in applauding substituted Danish players off the field. Denis Rommedahl, in particular, seemed to appreciate the gesture and gave the whole ground a clap when he limped out of the game after 30 minutes. Nicklas Bendtner, by contrast, strengthened my impression of him as a man of much skill but no class by pointedly ignoring the paying public as they acknowledged his performance.

As for the game itself, Slovakia were always going to find it difficult to improve their dismal record (it now reads P16 W3 D4 L9) in friendly games under Vladimir Weiss. Facing the quality possessed by the Danes is one thing, missing six key players is another, putting the ball in your own net after two minutes is yet another. Kornel Saláta, the man ‘credited‘ with that own goal was simply unlucky ; he had to cut out Rommedahl’s cross but, in doing so, succeeded only in wrong-footing Marián Kello.

Much of the rest of the first-half was encouraging for Slovakia. Marek Čech and Kamil Kopúnek took time to settle into their midfield roles but ultimately provided a good platform for Marek Hamšík to get forward and support the front three. Filip Hološko, however, was the best player, showing power, pace and a striker’s instinct. His equalising goal, resulting from a poor back-pass, was both coolly taken and richly deserved.

I wasn’t too keen on Weiss’s half-time substitutions. I’m not convinced we needed 45 more minutes of Jan Ďurica alongside Martin Škrtel in central defence. Also, while the decision to take off Filip Lukšík (who has proved he has international pedigree over the last few days) and switch Čech to left-back was fair enough, I can’t fathom why Filip Šebo was the man to come on. The combined result was that Hološko was shunted out of a position he’d been playing well in and the midfield began to look short of bodies. I would have brought on the local boy, Marek Kaščák, both to give the locals someone to really get behind and to maintain the support for Hamšík and Kopúnek.

Kaščák did eventually come on but only after Denmark, taking increasing advantage of the openness of the game, had scored what proved to be their winner. If the contest provided a lesson that needs to be absorbed, it is that Slovakia have to be compact, especially in central midfield, to have a chance of defeating good sides.

More positively, certain players suggested that they have an international future ahead of them. I’ve already mentioned Lukšík. Along with Juraj Piroška, one of the few who got better as the game went on, he showed that it is possible to play for a Corgoň Liga club and do yourself credit in representative football. And Marián Kello looks a very fine goalkeeper. His saves, especially in the second-half, ensured that Slovakia still had hope of a decent result going into injury-time.

Not much of this seems particularly conclusive but that’s the nature of friendly games. The contrast between Weiss’s friendly record and his competitive one (P19 W11 D3 L5) rather bears that point out. Last night’s game doesn’t tell us whether or not Slovakia will qualify for Euro 2012. It doesn’t even tell us whether Trnava should continue to stage home matches. For true wisdom, we’ll have to wait until October at the earliest. In the meantime, back to the Corgoń Liga…..

By James Baxter

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