July 3, 2010
Slovakia’s football squad left the country three weeks ago as a football team. They returned home heroes on Thursday. You couldn’t have asked for a better showing from Slovakia in South Africa. They gave us everything we could have asked for: Heart, spirit, guts, skill, a spotlight on the world stage, our own moment to bask in the soft glow of World Cup glory. Sure, there was some drama and defeat thrown in, but that just made the victories and celebration even sweeter.
Ten, even five years from now, fans won’t remember Winston Reid’s last minute header, or the poor play against Paraguay, or Vladimir Weiss’s row with the media. But they will remember June 24, 2010 at Ellis Park, when Robert Vittek and the rest of the squad put three goals past Fabio Cannavarro and the Italians. When Martin Skrtel’s knee deflected a potentially game-tying header. When Jan Mucha stood firm in goal. When Vladimir Weiss Jr. raced over to hug his father before joining his teammates and when the entire squad gathered in the middle of the field in celebration.
June 30, 2010
Slovakia’s successful World Cup run may create some big opportunities for Slovakia’s stars. Here’s a look at where some of the squad will be in 2010-2011.
Jan Mucha-The Slovak goalkeeper spent 2009-10 with Poland’s Legia Warszawa, but moved to Merseyside club Everton in the off-season. Mucha will back up American Tim Howard in goal, although some have said that he could challenge for the starting spot. His strong performance in South Africa could open up the door for a Mucha and we may see him starting a few games for the Toffees.
June 29, 2010
Man of the Tournament: Robert Vittek
Without a doubt, Robert Vittek gets my Man of the Tournament honor. The 28-year-old striker, who was recovering from a knee injury during the run up to the tournament, sparked Slovakia's offense, netting 4 goals in 4 games, and secured legendary status in Slovakia. His 4th goal of the tournament, a spot kick in the waning minutes of the Repre's game with the Netherlands, also put him past Szilárd Németh as Slovakia's all-time leading scorer.
Honorable Mention: Jan Mucha and Martin Skrtel
Both Mucha and Skrtel contributed mightily to the Slovakian cause. Mucha made several big saves, especially key punch-outs in their match against Italy and Skrtel controlled the back line superbly. Skrtel’s goal line deflection of a sure Italy goal in the second half of the game also saved the Repre from giving up the equalizer.
Well, I guess it had to end sometime. But Slovakia’s exit from the tournament was one of class and dignity. Free of controversy, lopsidedness, and poor play, Slovakia put up a superb effort and were simply beaten by a better team. But it was a highly contested match, with the Netherlands not really putting the game away until the 84th minute, and Slovakia generating three very legitimate chances.
-Still riding high from their win over Italy, Slovakia came out confident and focused. Erik Jendrisek put a shot over the top of the crossbar just a minute and a half into the game and things looked positive for the Repre. The Netherlands on the other hand came out very relaxed and lacking urgency. It was an effective attitude however, as they controlled most of the first half.
June 28, 2010
Slovakia’s incredible World Cup run came to an end today with a 2-1 loss to the Netherlands. Slovakia showed flashes of skill but were unable to overcome a strong performance from the Dutch. The loss signifies the end of one of the most unlikely World Cup stories in the tournament.
One of the more important things that came out of the game was the fact that Slovakia came out confident and composed. They were a completely different squad from the shaky side we saw against New Zealand and to see that sort of transformation in a span of 13 days is remarkable.
June 27, 2010
Slovakia and the Netherlands will face off in a Round of 16 match that almost no one expected to see. Still riding high of their epic upset of Italy, Slovakia enters the match with high hopes and an optimistic outlook. The Netherlands, despite winning all three of their Group E matches have yet to hit their stride and are playing with high expectations and enormous pressure. The match might turn out better than most expect however, with the gutsy Slovaks putting up a strong fight against the Dutch.
June 25, 2010
At the risk of inducing full-blown Slovak football overload, here are a few more bits of news and notes from the game,
-Weiss drastically switched up his lineup for the third time in three games, opting to use a 4-2-3-1 with Skrtel and Zbavnik patrolling the central defense, Jan Durica and Peter Pekarik at the fullback slots, Juraj Kucka and Zdeno Strba as holding midfielders, and Hamsik, Jendrisek and Stoch across the midfield feeding Vittek up front. Noticeably absent from the starting 11 were Stanislav Sestak and Vladimir Weiss Jr., two players who I felt had two of the better performances up to that point. Sure, no one played really well against Paraguay but Weiss was electric against New Zealand.
I don’t believe one can write too many words about what transpired this afternoon. The meaning of the moment, the thrill of the game, one could go on and on. But to ensure that I don’t overwhelm ESPN’s system, I’ll try to keep my thoughts to only a few posts. First a recap of the match, because really, who doesn’t want to relive it?
Slovakia came out fighting. Fighting on the endline and sidelines for possession, fighting in the midfield, in the air. Fighting for the little things. And because of that fight and that hustle, they began to make something out of nothing. They earned corners, held possession, saw good looks at the goal. They were creating opportunities through hustle and grit. Helping their cause was the lackluster play of the careless, uninspired Italian side and it’s nervous goalkeeper Frederico Marchetti.
June 24, 2010
The impossible has happened. Slovakia has sent the defending champions packing and have advanced to the second round of the World Cup, after starting the day in last place. In the most epic, exciting, nerve-racking, glorious match that I have ever seen, the Repre, from little Slovakia, led by veteran Robert Vittek, stood toe-to-to with Italy, took their lumps, and came out on top. This was the team we were expecting to see all tournament! Full of energy, heart, guts and passion. It is without a doubt, the greatest moment in Slovak football history, and will stay with Slovaks for years to come. My fingers are trembling as I write this, still decompressing from such an emotional game, overcome with pride and happiness. To see manager Vladimir Weiss on the field after the game, his eyes full of tears, and the rest of the team, gathered in a circle, joyously yelling and celebrating is something that I will not soon forget. More rational analysis later tonight but for now, Slovak fans, drink in this feeling, because history has just been made.
The weight of the World Cup has hung heavy over the Slovakian squad lately. Almost nothing has been going right for the Repre, from the complete absence of the offense on the playing field to the off-the-field comments from its coach. The media back home have largely turned against them and players have grown frustrated. This is not the World Cup we were expecting. And these issues, both on and off the field are not things that can be shaken off quickly, say, in between World Cup matches. These are things that take time to heal. But unfortunately, the Repre don't have that sort of time. At the time of this writing, they have less than 12 hours. That's when they'll take on the defending world champions in a fight for their World Cup lives. It is a monumental task, but if it is done, it will without a doubt the single greatest moment in Slovak football history, and another bright moment in this tournament already filled with flashes.