The Offence: More Than Just Hamsik
Hi Slovakia fans, my name is Neil and for the next month and a half I’ll be blogging about the Slovakia national football team. My interest in Slovakia came through Napoli midfielder Marek Hamsik, as Napoli is my favourite Italian team and I’ve been following Hamsik’s development since he made the move from Brescia to Napoli. Once Slovakia got off to a strong start in their WC qualifying campaign, I became excited at the prospect of Hamsik showcasing his talent on the world stage. But as I quickly learned, Slovakia’s offence is more than just Napoli’s attacking midfielder. More after the jump.
First, I want to link to a couple of great articles about Slovakia. This one here is from Soccernet and introduces the team, and this one is from the offside’s world cup page and goes into the history of the Slovak program.
But back to the playes, and specifically the forwards. The front line is anchored by Stanislav Sestak, who led Slovakia with 6 goals in WC qualifying. The 27 year old starred for Slovan Bratislava and MSK Zilina before earning a move to Bochum in 2007. How influential is Sestak? Slovakia had only two losses in qualifying, both to Slovenia, and Sestak missed both games. He also scored goals in the 85th and 86th minute to give Slovakia a comeback win over Poland which was maybe the turning point in reaching the World Cup.
Sestak will likely be joined up front in Weiss’ 4-4-2 by Schalke’s Erik Jendrisek. The 23 year old has not been a solid fixture on the national team, but some impressive recent performances for Kaiserslautern made Schalke swoop for him before his contract with Lautern even expired. Another candidate to start is Besiktas star Filip Holosko. The youngster is a quick player who models his game after Thierry Henry, and has been a good prospect from a very young age.
If Weiss is looking for more experience, he may go with former captain Robert Vittek. The 28 year old has been in the Slovak program since 2001, and is the second most experienced player after Miroslav Karhan. If Vittek doesn’t start he could be an important second half sub, especially for his heading ability. Rounding out the group of five strikers is FC Moscow’s Martin Jakubko, who should have a very small role at the WC unless another player is injured.
Slovakia’s midfield, and in fact the entire team, is led by Captain Marek Hamsik. The 22 year old led Napoli in scoring last season and is on the wish list of Inter, Chelsea, and Man United. Hamsik’s tactical awareness and skill are second to none, and he scores at least 3/4 of the penalties he takes. Defensively he has struggled at times, but over the last three seasons in Serie A he has worked hard to improve that side of his game. Some Napoli fans knock him for drifting out of games and not dominating, but he scores so many big goals he doesn’t need to control a game for the entire 90 minutes.
On the right flank is the manager’s son and namesake Vladimir Weiss. The 20 year old can cause problems with his crosses and has been training with Manchester City’s stars for the last two seasons. Last January he went on loan to Bolton Wanderers in order to get more playing time.
Rounding out the four starters are Jan Kozak and Kamil Kopunek. Kozak is the more offensive player and scored twice in WC qualifying. His specialty is long passes and dead ball situations. The role of holding midfielder is taken up by Kopunek, who does a lot of the dirty work.
Another noteworthy midfielder is Chelsea player Miroslav Stoch, who is a small attacking player and has to compete with Hamsik and Weiss for playing time in the Slovak team. Last season he was loaned to Dutch club FC Twente, where his creative talents were allowed to be shown every week. He may start somewhere in midfield for Slovakia.
Other backup midfielders include old man Miroslav Karhan, who will backup Kopunek, and Marek Sapara, who will backup Kozak. Zdenko Strba is another experienced defensive midfielder who plays often as a defender.
So that is a preview of the key players in Slovakia’s offence and midfield for the World Cup. Weiss experimented with a lot of different lineups during qualifying, and he might alter the lineup if necessary in South Africa depending on the opposition and the tactical requirements.
And finally, here’s a link to Slovakia’s 1-0 victory away to Poland that clinched a spot in South Africa. Poland was the better side, hitting a crossbar and missing an open net, but Slovakia hung on to their early goal and deserve their place in the World Cup.
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