Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Careful With That Valaska, Marek!

Slovakia darken our door tomorrow night, and might hesitate at the threshold, muttering, "Oh, have we come at a bad time?" when confronted with the scene of domestic strife presented by the Irish football family.

But what do we know of our visitors, aside from the accepted wisdom about them being "technically very good" and armed with "dangerous movement" (these are recognised truths because, compared to us, pretty much everyone is technically good and dangerous. Apart from Wales. Thank God for Wales!)?

Velvet Divorce
If Czechoslovakia was Ike & Tina Turner (without the punching), it's the Czechs that went on to international chart success and scary hair upon their separation, and Slovakia that ended up doing stir on a drugs rap.

While the Czech Republic have been a serious power in European football since independence in 1992 (reaching the final of Euro 1996 and the semi-finals of Euro 2004, and producing noted players like Pavel Nedved, Karel Pobrosky, Jan Koller, Marek Jankulovski and Tomas Rosicky), their old flames in Slovakia have never so much as made the final stages of a tournament.

Notable Slovaks are restricted to Celtic hero Lubomir Moravcik, journeyman centre-half Stanislav Varga and non-scoring former Middlesbrough striker Szilard Nemeth.

River Deep, Mountain High
But unlike Ike, the Slovaks could yet achieve solo success. They went agonisingly close to making the short trip to Germany for last year's World Cup. As runner-up to Portugal in group 3 (beating out Russia into third) they advanced to a play-off against Spain, where alas, the wheels came spectacularly off. A Luis Garcia hat-trick in the first leg helped the Spaniards to a 6-2 aggregate victory.

I would Bratislava it if we beat them...
This time around it's been mixed, to be honest. The Slovaks seem eminently capable of disposing of the group's lesser lights, hammering Cyprus 6-1 and 3-1 home and away, and demolishing the Welsh 5-1.

However, when faced with the group's stronger sides, estranged spouse the Czech Republic and Germany, the Slovaks go to pieces. They lost 3-0 at home to the Czechs and 4-1, also in Bratislava, against the Germans.

Therefore, whether they will view Ireland as spankable minnows or frightening group overlords could determine much tomorrow night...

Are you Mintal?
Marek Mintal of FC Nurnberg is Slovakia's top scorer in the tournament so far, but, hallelujah, misses out tomorrow night due to a foot injury. The Slovaks' hopes rest on Mintal's teammate at Nurnberg, Robert Vittek, Brescia midfielder Marek Hamsik and Porto's Marek (the Slovak equivalent of Pat, obviously) Cech.

Mountains and Castles and Stuff
If Slovakia can leapfrog Ireland and begin to snap at the heels of the Czechs, it will be well overdue. As on the football field, so in other areas has the Czech Republic been more prominent than their neighbours.

Much of this is due to Prague, the Czech capital, being one of the must-visit destinations of post-communist eastern Europe, its magnificent architecture, historical fascination, delicious beer and fit women making it attractive to the coach-tour circuit, romantic city-breakers and lairy stag parties alike.

But much like its footballers in group D, Slovakia's attractiveness to tourists is coming up hard on its neighbour's shoulder. With the spectacular Carpathian Mountains home to countless mediaeval castles and untouched villages retaining much of their bucolic authenticity - and that's before one considers Bratislava itself - Slovakia's charms are obvious.

Presumably Irish fans visiting in September will take time out to enjoy Devin Castle, an 8th century fortress perched on a clifftop around 9km from Bratislava. Of course they will.

Valaska stupid question...
Slovakia even has a national weapon. The Valaska is a long, thin and light axe, which is mainly used nowadays in traditional dances (Dancing with axes? Someone could have their eye out with that carry-on!). It was also used by Slovak folk hero Juraj Janosik, a forest robber who stole from the rich to give to the poor. Hang on a minute...

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2 Comments:

Blogger Tom the Tim said...

Expected Judith Chalmers. oh oh, giving my age away there, to be writing the column today, Tom.

Perhaps Stan is looking for his Place in the Sun.

Will Sebo be playing?

7:38 p.m.  
Blogger Tommy77 said...

Sebo didn't even make the squad, incredibly, given his prolific form with Rangers.

See the official Filip Sebo website for all the latest on the baldy, crap one.

8:17 p.m.  

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