Tuesday, 8 December 2009

A View From Slovakia - Part 1 - New Zealand

After missing out on Group C and Group D, and with only three balls left in Haile Gebrselassie's pot, Slovakia ended up in Group F along with Italy, Paraguay and New Zealand.

"Ladies & gentlemen, now the moment you've all been waiting for..."
[YouTube screencap]

Many immediate reactions were rather positive - Vladimir Weiss (manager) and a number of his players used words like "good", "satisfied", and their various synonyms. What is probably even more surprising is the reaction of Slovak fans - according to a poll by a major Slovak daily, 66% out of nearly 7000 participants were "pleased" with the draw (and 31% did not care...). 52% respondents believe that Slovakia can make it beyond the group stages -  with the major difference being that this particular poll comes from the Czech Republic.

"Smiley Faces"
[Weiss the manager in the middle & Laurinec the Slovak Football Association president on the right]
[YouTube screencap]

As things stand at this very moment, a major British bookmaker gives Slovakia a 6/4 chance to qualify [does not quite compare with Italy's 1/20 & is somewhat bleaker than that of Paraguay (1/2)]. A fifa.com Group F analysis managed to score three own goals by a) failing to list Marek Hamšík on its "players to watch" section [he deserves at least one full article, so wait for it...], b) mentioning Marek Mintál, who no longer plays for Slovakia and c) naming Robert Vitteck [sic] as a star and misspelling his surname [his chance conversion rate is close to the recently abolished Zimbabwean dollar and his surname is Vittek - no "c" there]. Beyond this inglorious hat-trick, it poses an interesting question - "Do Paraguay and Slovakia have what it takes to trouble Italy? And can New Zealand claim a first FIFA World Cup point?". Fancy a view from Slovakia?

"My futuristic linguistics turn fools into statistics"

Nový Zéland [New Zealand]
Slovakia's captain Marek Hamšík called New Zealand "the great unknown". When asked about Group F, All Whites coach Ricki Herbert claimed that "Slovakia and Paraguay are two new sides to us. They are two big obstacles but we go in with some confidence". With 18,000km/11,200m separating the two countries, the lack of information is somewhat understandable. Wait - what "lack of information"? Slovakia has an ace up in its sleeve - and an instant advantage.

"I don't share your greed, the only card I need is the Ace Of Spades"
[Ivan Hucko]

Ivan Hucko makes his living in a far away Middle Eastern kingdom of Bahrain - as its national football team's assistant coach. What team did Bahrain face in the WC play-offs? Following the World Cup draw, interviews with Hucko appeared in several Slovak dailies, and he does know the All Whites well enough... So what does he say?
"The team has 4-5 players, who are over 190 cm [6 ft 2 in], but not very agile. When inside the box, they rely on headers. Their players are strong and good when it comes to direct kicks and corners." He identifies Simon Elliot as the team's key player - "he might be 35 years old, but his role in the midfield cannot be overlooked".

Can Slovakia cope? Based on what Ivan Hucko says - ye-es.
"Simon says that your mind is requesting furliugh."
[Simon Elliot]
If New Zealand truly lacks agility, it should have difficulties with keeping up with the pace of Miroslav Stoch [Chelsea, on loan to FC Twente], Vladimír Weiss Jr. [Manchester City], Marek Hamšík [Napoli], Filip Hološko [Besiktas Istanbul] and Stanislav Šesták [VfL Bochum]. In case you are not familiar with any of these players [and I definitely do not expect you to be], dry your eyes - each one of them deserves a shorter or a longer article at some point in the nearer future.

When it comes to defending in general and headers in the box in particular, Slovakia should be careful. Slovakia conceded 10 goals in the qualifiers - more than Slovenia [4 goals - 2nd in the qualifying group], the Czech Republic [6 goals - 3rd] and Northern Ireland [9 goals - 4th]. More importantly [or embarrassingly], both first pick centre-halves, Martin Škrtel and Ján Ďurica, scored an own goal each - the former against the Czech Republic, the latter against Northern Ireland. These very own goals could have cost us the World Cup and conceding one in South Africa could be lethal. Both players are prone to mistakes - maybe understandably in Ďurica's case, since has made only three appearances for his club [Lokomotiv Moscow] over the past four months. On the other hand, goalkeeper Mucha has proven to be very reliable indeed and if he keeps his current form, he is guaranteed to catch 2-3 New Zealand's goals. Watch the Northern Ireland v. Slovakia video above to see what I mean - it has it all - speedy breaks, defensive  mistake by Škrtel and Mucha's great save...

"I've got my kiwi symphony, yeah, yeah."
[New Zealand just qualified]
And what is Hucko's conclusion? Can Slovakia beat New Zealand?
"Of course, but we cannot afford to underestimate them and cannot give them room to play their style of game. We have better players, but we must prove it on the pitch. It will be vital to focus and prepare well by analyzing the opponent and the different aspects of their game."

Any Kiwis out there? What say you?
blog comments powered by Disqus
Related Posts with Thumbnails