Belfast Telegraph

Friday 26 December 2014

Republic wary against inconsistent Slovakia

The Republic may discover in Zilina tomorrow just how they are viewed by the rest of Europe.

Slovakia's failure to overcome Armenia in Yerevan on Friday may have surprised those who expected them to be the force in the group following their win in Moscow. But those who know Slovakian football were not shocked.

Slovakia, as their World Cup demonstrated, are a side that enjoys the big occasion.

Yerevan may not have been big enough for them. The importance of Zilina tomorrow cannot now be understated. But the Republic may hope that they are underestimated.

The pattern of Slovakia's World Cup now looks like being repeated. After a disappointing performances against New Zealand and defeat to Paraguay, coach Vladimir Weiss was dealing with a hostile press but dealing with them, at times, by threatening even more hostility.

In the summer, Slovakian journalists complained that he had been physically abusive after the defeat to Paraguay. Perceptions changed with the dramatic defeat of Italy and the pattern that has also been seen in this group emerged.

Slovakia are a young side and their innocence and their strengths were revealed in the story of their safari in South Africa when they asked if it was okay if they could get out and pet the lions.

“They like the big stage,” says Daniel Richardson, whose blog Britski Belasi concentrates on Slovakian football.

“They're a team that is happier playing Russia in Moscow than Macedonia at home in Bratislava,” Richardson said on Thursday, adding some fears for the game in Yerevan which proved to be justified. As they had against the Republic, Armenia counter-attacked Slovakia on Friday as if they would never get the chance to attack again.

The Slovakian centre-back pairing of Martin Skrtel and Kornel Salata were credited by most with the victory in Moscow so Skrtel's yellow card in Yerevan is a loss even if he didn't make himself look indispensable in Armenia.

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