Leaving the Žilina stadium after Slovakia‘s1-1 draw with the Republic of Ireland in Euro 2012 qualifying last night, I wasn’t congratulating myself on finally predicting a result correctly. Two teams of comparable ability anxious to redeem themselves after poor Friday results, coaches who put a strong emphasis on discipline and team shape, vague hints that all might not be peace and harmony in either camp ; surely it was never going to end in any other way. Ireland might well head for home thinking they should have won but Robbie Keane’s penalty miss and his wild blaze over the bar five minutes from full-time were really all part of the inevitability.
Of course, there will never be complete predictability when Slovakia coach Vladimir Weiss Senior is around. I’ve begun to develop a theory that Mr Weiss has become a keen reader of Britski Belasi match previews. He looks at the Slovak line-up considered likely by Dan or me and makes at least two changes to it. As an unqualified admirer of Weiss, I’m not complaining. Jan Ďurica and Erik Jendrišek, the two players who were in his starting XI last night but wouldn’t have been in mine, were among the home side’s best performers.
Privately, I’d started to believe that Jendrišek might still be ‘dining out’ on his now legendary goal against the Czech Republic in Prague last April, but he dispelled that notion last night. He started the game as the lone central striker but spent most of it on the right flank, occasionally switching with Vladimir Weiss Junior, and worked prodigiously hard. An image that will remain with me from the evening will be of Jendrišek winning a tackle in the full-back position, passing and sprinting forward. Nothing spectacular perhaps – it wasn’t a night for that – but he justified his selection.
As for Ďurica, I’d stated my misgivings about him in my preview but, again, he showed why Weiss had brought him back in. For a start, he produced what Dan has rightly been calling for from Slovakia. His well-placed 36th minute header after Hamšík’s corner had been flicked on was a ‘bread-and-butter’ goal and a vital one, since Ireland had been threatening to extend the lead given to them 20 minutes earlier by Sean St Ledger’s fine finish. Besides his goal, Ďurica was strong and authoritative throughout. It’s a shame he seems to need adversity and criticism to produce performances like this.
The centurion has to be mentioned, of course ; Miroslav Karhan gave a fine display, offering both defensive assurance and, more surprisingly, some threatening surges forward. Following Zdeno Štrba’s retirement and with Karim Guede not yet a Slovak citizen and Kamil Kopunek not quite the right type of player, Karhan is irreplaceable in the midfield holding role. He will need to go beyond the 100 caps he’s already won.
Tactically, well, I’m nothing compared to the likes of Zonal Marking or Jonathan Wilson but it did seem to me that Weiss attempted to imitate the Irish formation once the visitors had taken the lead. Stanislav Šesták joined Jendrišek in a central attacking role with Hamšík moving out to the left. It didn’t look great, frankly, but Slovakia equalized while still playing it, then went back to 4-2-3-1. Certainly, the home side were, theoretically at least, more fluid and adaptable than the Irish but the away team can be happy with their overall effort, if not the result it produced. Championship players St Ledger and Shane Long both had good games. The one disappointment was the more celebrated Keane, who didn’t seem to do an awful lot and missed (apart from the goals) the game’s two best chances.
Despite (or, more probably because of) all the effort and commitment on display, it wasn’t the greatest game of football. However, it was a good evening and I hope the visiting Irish fans enjoyed themselves in Žilina. The atmosphere in the bars near the ground before the game was raucous but friendly. Inside too, there was plenty of noise. The home fans responded well to the impressive renditions of ‘You Boys in Green’, with their own chants, accompanied by energetic bouncing, of ‘Who’s not jumping isn’t Slovak’. Players on both sides seemed to appreciate the efforts of their followers, at least judging by the applause to the stands at the end of the game.
Few conclusions about Group B can be drawn from last night’s result on the field so I will end with the one conclusion I certainly CAN draw ; the SFZ (the Slovak FA) should put completely out of their minds the thought that the miserable Pasienky in Bratislava is a suitable venue for international football and bring the national team to Žilina for every home game until a new gound is ready in the capital.
By James Baxter for our partners at http://britskibelasi.footballunited.com/