Slovak Jozef Kožlej (right) battles Czech captain Jiří Němec for the ball. Tibor Jančula is in the background.
No one noticed in Prague, though. The game wasn't broadcast on any of the Czech television stations. Bars were empty in Prague on a Sunday night except for tourists searching for Czech beer.
It is a remarkable fall for the Czech national team, the surprise darlings of the 1996 European Championship who almost conquered the Albion, finishing second. The Czechs have already been eliminated from qualifying for the 1998 World Cup in France, but the Slovaks kept their hopes alive with a 2-1 victory over their former teammates.
The chance came about thanks to some inspired play by Slovakia's talented forwards, Tibor Jančula, Jozef Majoroš, and Jozef Kožlej. Ten minutes into the second half, Majoroš headed a deflected ball into the net, putting Slovakia on top for good. Only two minutes before, Czech goalie Pavel Srniček stuffed Július Šimon's penalty kick, causing a hush to descend on the crowd.
The Czechs scored the first goal of the match 15 minutes into the game after the Slovak defense was caught too far up. Czech captain Jiří Němec flew up the field finding a wide-open Vladimír Šmicer who nailed an easy goal past the Slovak goalie, 38 year-old Ladislav Molnár.
The Slovaks equalized in the closing minute of the first half after Igor Bališ passed the ball with a nifty back kick to Jančula who stunned Srníček with a blast.
"If we beat the European Championship runners-up, I think we can dare to hope for a win against Yugoslavia and Spain next month," said Jozef Jankech, the Slovak coach immediately after the win.
As this paper went to print, the Yugoslavs and Slovaks were set to meet in Bratislava on September 10. If Slovakia beats Yugoslavia and Spain at home, and then scores a victory over the Czechs in Prague, the team would finish first in its group, which is an automatic berth in the World Cup.
1.Spain 6 2 0 20
2.Yugoslavia 6 1 1 19
3.Slovakia 5 0 2 15
4.Czech Republic 3 1 4 10
5.Faroe Islands 2 0 7 6
6.Malta 0 0 8 0
September 10 - Yugoslavia at Slovakia
September 24 - Spain at Slovakia; Czech Republic at Malta
October 11- Slovakia at Czech Republic; Faroe Islands at Spain, Yugoslavia at Malta
11. Sep 1997 at 0:00 | Daniel J. Stoll