Forget the recent Under-21 matches against the Russians. This was the football match the Slovaks really wanted to win: the government versus a Rest of the World diplomatic team. However, diplomatic the diplomats were not. As the legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankley once said, "Some people think football is life and death. They're wrong. It's much more important than that."
So on Friday, December 3 we witnessed a bone-crunching duel between a team led by Deputy Prime Minister Ľubomír Fogaš and the challengers, co-captained by the British and Turkish Ambassadors. The first half started slowly, with both teams probing the opposing defences. But the game was ignited when a dazzling solo effort by Anil Cicek for Turkey ended in a powerful shot into the bottom left hand corner of the net. The Slovaks hit back with some penetrating runs by Deputy Foreign Minister Jaroslav Chlebo. Athanasios Krikos, Greece, pulled off some fine saves and a couple of shots shaved the woodwork. But at half time the score remained one-nil.
In the second half the Slovaks hit top gear, spurred on by Fogaš in defence. Substitute goalie Peter Botha, Britain, was caught cold by a shot, which ricocheted off several legs on its way into the net. One-all and everything to play for. Stout performances were seen by Alfred Handler, Austria, the American Mark Bocchetti and a handful of Russians. Wave after wave of Slovak attacks were beaten off, with the post being hit twice. But late in the game a stunning one-two move ended in a thunderous goal by Eduard Bukin, Russia, and the diplomats were home and dry. The final whistle, and the crowd erupted and danced on to the pitch.
Asked to comment after the match, an emotional British Ambassador praised his team: "The lads were magnificent out there tonight. They gave their all, and you can't ask for more than that. All praise to the Slovaks though. This has to be another tick in the box for them."
Roll on the return match. Deputy PM Fogaš is already talking about fining the cabinet members who did not turn out, and Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda and Defence Minister Pavol Kanis are hotly tipped to strengthen the team.
-David Lyscom is Britain's Ambassador to Slovakia, and the captain of the victorious international side.
13. Dec 1999 at 0:00 | David Lyscom