Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Slovakia World Cup 2010 fan's preview: Paraguay will be make or break [unabridged & Aptured]

You might have come across my Slovakia-centric World Cup preview for the Guardian Fans' Network and some answers might not have made much sense [e.g. why am I worried by Paraguay's striker Lucas Barrios?] - below is the unabridged version of the preview that should put some answers into perspective.

 World Cup draw

The fact that Slovakia has qualified for the World Cup is an unprecedented success – not even the staunchest of fans had much faith in a succesful outcome at the beginning of the WC qualifiers. Watching Slovakia's first-ever World Cup game will finally bring a long wait to its close!

Slovakia's fate in South Africa may be decided by a single goal and the second game against Paraguay will be the make-or-break moment – a win against New Zealand is seen as a must, whereas a loss against Italy is, given Slovakia's poor record against much stronger sides (such as England –
0:4), more or less expected.

If one could predict the outcome purely on the basis of past performances, I would conclude that Slovakia will not make it beyond the group stages –
November's friendly against Chile showed that most Slovakian players, especially defenders, are finding it hard to cope with the South American style of play, with the speed, agility and technical skills on which it relies.

Slovakia's strengths are solid goalkeeping (
Ján Mucha was a real revelation) and quick counter-attacks – Hamšík, Stoch and Hološko have what it takes to «blitz» they way to the enemy's half and beyond.

7560 minutes later
Napoli's star Marek Hamšík is the shiniest of Slovakia's stars and the team is likely to revolve around him. Ján Mucha was easily the biggest revelation of the qualifying campaign and Slovakia's fate might as well lay in his gloves, while forward Stanislav Šesták scored the team's most important goals, including two in two minutes that brought Slovakia back from the abbys in a crucial home encounter against Poland.

Slovakia's starting XI is likely to feature three to four young players – captain Hamšík is only 22 years old, winger Miroslav Stoch, who helped Steve McLaren's FC Twente to secure its first-ever title, only 20.
Erik Jendrišek, who scored the game-winner against the Czechs in Prague, might play on the wing or upfront, and will be keen to continue in his scoring streak (16 goals in 33 games for 1. FC Kaiserslautern) and prove to FC Schalke 04 that he was worth of signing. The last youngster to watch is the manager's son – Vladimír Weiss Jr. – the World Cup might be the defining moment in his career.

Slovakia's «weakest link» can be found in defence and is called
Ján Ďurica. Defensive partner of Liverpool's Martin Škrtel is rather error-prone, has scored a fair number of own goals and had a worryingly low game time in the last season. What is even more worrying is that he is pretty much irreplaceable – Slovakia does not have a better central defender. The «Ďurica» factor uncovers a deeper problem – Slovakia's squad lacks the necessary depth, and two or three injuries can pose a major problem for its manager.

Slovakia does not really have a «bad man» - the team has shown a good deal of discipline and fair play during the qualifiers and friendlies.

Martin Škrteľ
Vladimír Weiss Sr., the man behind Artmedia Bratislava's 2005-06 Champions League campaign, is the right man for the job – I cannot possibly imagine anyone else. Weiss Sr. should rely on disciplined performances, good defence and pacey counter-attacks.

Vladimír Weiss
- Who will win the tournament? Why?
If I had to pick just one team, I'd go for Spain – an impressive side without a major weakness. If injuries stay away from them, they could go all the way.

- How far will England get? Please include your exact prediction for them. What do you think of their team?
To be quite honest, I do not really care – I am not a big fan of all the pre-WC hysteria that surrounds this team. My exact prediction is that England will be eliminated in the semis. Capello might be the silver bullet, and the talent at his disposal is considerable, but the lack of a «great» keeper might be the team's Achilles' heel.

- Who will finish as overall top scorer in the tournament?
David Villa

- Which nation do you dislike most, and why?

- Who is the rival player you really love to hate?
Paraguay's striker Lucas Barisso, who seems to be a worthy replacement for the tragically injured Salvador Cabanes – he acquired his Paraguayan citizenship only a few months ago – he's got some cruel intentions when it comes to playing the Slovaks :D
- What is your nation's favourite chant? 
Nothing exceedingly exciting on the chant-front. Slovak fans may be joining the list of South Africa's endangered species – less than a thousand are planning to come over to see their team in action. Chants include the mandatory «Slovenskooooo!» (Slovak for «Slovakia»), «My to aj tak dneska vyhráme!» (We are still going to win this game – usually chanted when we are trailing behind). A popular chant during the last qualifying campaign was «Stretneme sa o rok v Afrike!» (See you in Africa!).
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