Slovakia take on Andorra on Saturday in a Euro 2012 qualifying fixture as important as it is unattractive. Victory at Pasienky, preferably combined with one or both of Russia or Ireland dropping points, would establish Vladimir Weiss’s team in a strong position ahead of the difficult and decisive games coming up in September and October.
Certain business has had to be cleared out of the way before Weiss himself can turn his thoughts exclusively to Andorra. Over the weekend, he decided to refuse the offer to take over as Legia Warsaw’s head coach. This news came as a surprise since Weiss had made little secret of his wish to take on a role at a club to go alongside his job as coach of Slovakia. He admits to being impressed by the infrastructure and level of ambition at Legia but felt that certain aspects of the contract they were offering him would not have satisfied his current employers, Slovenský futbalový zväz (SFZ), that he would be able to carry out his international duties sufficiently.
With Weiss’s immediate future sorted out, attention can now be focused on the best ways to go about defeating the Andorrans. Two players, Martin Škrtel and Adam Nemec, are out of the squad through injury. The fact that a replacement for the Liverpool defender has not been called up suggests that Weiss is not too worried about the attacking threat likely to be posed by Saturday’s visitors. In fact, it seems quite possible that Miroslav Karhan will play in the back four, given the coach’s view that good passing from deep positions will be important and that Karhan is better at this than any other defender in the squad. Nemec’s place, meanwhile, has been taken by Juraj Piroška, who might consider himself unlucky to have been left out of the initial squad following some good performances for Senica this spring as well as a fine display in his country‘s friendly with Denmark at the end of March.
Unsurprisingly, Weiss insists that Slovakia will play an attacking game on Saturday, saying the actual formation will be less important than the quality of play. Assistant Michal Hipp believes Andorra can be hurt in the wide areas, pointing to the fact that Miroslav Stoch (who misses out this time) caused them problems in the reverse fixture in March. Good set-pieces might also play an important role in breaking Andorra down, according to Hipp, a view backed up by the fact that Filip Šebo’s winning goal at Andorra La Vella followed an inventive move from a free-kick.
At the risk of being made to look silly (in fact, the unpredictability of Weiss’s selections make this more a guarantee than a risk), I thought I would offer a possible Slovak starting line-up for Saturday’s game, playing a 4-4-2 shape :
Of the two goalkeepers in the squad, Marián Kello looks the more likely starter, especially in view of his excellent performance against Denmark. Erik Čikoš of Wisla Krakow, preferred for this game to Peter Pekarík, will almost certainly play at right-back, a position from which he will be expected to get forward at every opportunity. Assuming for now that Karhan plays in central defence, I would pair him with Kornel Saláta who, despite an unfortunate own-goal against the Danes, is a more reassuring figure than Ján Ďurica. And Marek Čech, another defender with attacking instincts, should play on the left. If Weiss feels that Čech’s lack of recent action with West Bromwich Albion is a problem, Tomáš Hubočan will come into the reckoning.
The Italy-based pair of Marek Hamšík and Juraj Kucka ought to be more than good enough to control the central midfield area between them, while Stanislav Šesták and Erik Jendrišek provide pace and industry down the flanks. If greater trickery is required, Igor Žofčák and Piroška are good alternatives for the wide positions. Up front, well, just for once, Slovakia seem to have a few options. My instinct, sacrilegious as this would have seemed not too long ago, is to leave out Róbert Vittek and pair the two Filips, Hološko and Šebo. Hološko seems to have been playing well in Turkey recently and caused the Danish defence all sorts of problems in his last international outing. As for Šebo, little remains to be said after the spring he’s had. Weiss often says that players in form should be picked and it’s difficult to imagine how a striker could be more in form than the Corgoň Liga’s top goalscorer.
I would have liked to be able to find a place for former Žilina captain Róbert Jež but it’s hard to see him starting the game unless Weiss opts for a 4-3-3 and plays him in the third midfield position, ie behind the front trio. Since neither Hološko nor Šebo seems particularly suited to playing in a wide forward role, one of them would have to miss out to allow for such a formation and that seems difficult to justify at present.
Still, Jež is another player in fine form and he seems to be enjoying life in the Polish league with Górnik Zabrze . He hit two goals against Widzew Łódź at the weekend, taking his tally of spring strikes to five and becoming his side’s second top-scorer for the season in the process. To his own relief, though, he was spared the dubious honour of being named man-of-the-match ; the prize Zabrze give for this is a live cockerel in a cage.
If Jež stays with Górnik, the problem of what to do with a cockerel is one he is going to have to deal with at some point. The questions surrounding Weiss’s future are also likely to return in the fairly near future, since his fine work with Petržalka and achievements with Slovakia mean that he is always going to be in demand. Also, his frustration at not being able to work with players on an everyday basis is becoming more obvious with every interview he gives. For now, though, the coach and his players must be united by the simple aim of collecting, as convincingly as they can, three points on Saturday. Andorra don’t concede embarrassing numbers of goals these days but they are still a very limited side. I venture to predict a 3-0 home win with Šebo scoring at least one of the goals.
By James Baxter, BritskiBelasi