The plug has been pulled on Slovakia’s World Cup dreams, which were on life support entering today’s match against Paraguay. Following a 2-0 loss to the South American side, Slovakia’s dreams of advancing to the Round of 16 seem all but over. But unlike their match against New Zealand, Slovakia did nothing to show that they deserved anything more than a loss. Their performance against Paraguay can best be described as sloppy and uninspired. They struggled to establish any real rhythm, failed to connect on passes, were lax with touches and on the whole appeared half-asleep.
Weiss came out with a surprising lineup, using a 4-4-1-1 with Marek Hamsik playing slightly above holding midfielder Zdeno Strba and Jan Kozak behind striker Robert Vittek. Weiss also swapped out his starting fullbacks from last match, going with Peter Pekarik on the right, and Jan Durica on the left, in place of Marek Cech and Radoslav Zabavnik, and putting Kornel Salata on the middle with Martin Skrtel. I’m a little puzzled by the defensive shifts by Weiss. Radoslav Zabavnik is one of Slovakia’s stronger and most passionate players, something that the squad desperately needed today. I’m also dumbfounded that Weiss continues to use Miroslav Stoch as a substitute. Stoch is great on the wing, and against a team that is very strong in the middle, Stoch could have teamed with Weiss to stretch the field and serve balls into the box.
Slovakia came out tentative but held their own for much of the first half. They were scrappy but cautious, playing most of the half in their end. Paraguay broke the match open in the 27th minute when Lucas Barrios fed Enrique Vera who poked the ball past Mucha as Durica closed in on the Paraguayan. The goal was a result of sloppy defending by Slovakia, as Vladimir Weiss attempted to clear with a little flick-on that was easily deflected and collected by Barrios. Paraguay put an exclamation point on the match in the 86th minute when a free kick deflection bounced to an unmarked Christian Riveros who drilled it into the net.
Captain Marek Hamsik was nowhere to be seen during the entire game. Picked at the outset to be one of the young stars of the tournament, Hamsik has failed to rise to that charge. I seriously cannot remember seeing Hamsik get involved in the match, save for one poor cross. Vladimir Weiss, who was electric in Slovakia’s first match, struggled this time around. Paraguay did their homework on the speedy winger who likes to run one on one at defenders. Whenever Weiss began to run with the ball he was swarmed by two or three defenders, stifling his runs and thoroughly frustrating the 20-year-old.
To pick a man of the match for Slovakia is a tough task, but I would give it to Martin Skrtel. Skrtel played tough, gritty defense and marshaled the back line superbly, snuffing out several of Paraguay’s scoring opportunities. The Liverpool defender proved why he belongs in the English Premier League. Honorable mention goes to goalkeeper Jan Mucha who made a few tough saves and patrolled the box calmly and coolly.
Despite trailing by a goal and having their World Cup life on the line, Slovakia failed to producing any real offense the entire game. Credit must be given to Paraguay’s defense, who packed the middle, making it very hard for Slovakia to find any rhythm or momentum. But at the same time, Slovakia’s attacks were very halfhearted. They played with no sense of urgency, no passion, no fire. They should have been throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Paraguay, just to try and get something, but they continued to play conservative, passing back to Mucha and being careless with their touches. It took until very late in the game for the Repre to finally get their first shot on goal. In a game where a spirited, passionate performance could have elicited a result, Slovakia failed to produce one.
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