Halenár had Artmedia's best chance against Inter Milan, but put it in the keeper's hands.
The September 13 game represented the first time any Slovak club had qualified for the main round of the annual football tournament of top European teams. Artmedia, a rank outsider, beat out Glasgow Celtic and Partizan Belgrade earlier in the summer to advance.
"We're always unhappy to lose, but this was a big match for us today and a big lesson," said Artmedia coach Vladimír Weiss after the match. "The will and the effort were there, but I think some players had too much respect for their opponents. We also lacked courage and determination in our offensive play, which is another reason we lost."
From the opening kick-off it was clear that Inter was by far the stronger team, testing the Slovak defence with deep probes, until in the 17th minute striker Julio Ricardo Cruz deflected a cross past Artmedia keeper Juraj Čobej to give Milan the lead for good.
Artmedia mounted some opposition after half time, and when Inter's Juan Sebastian Veron was sent off in the 57th minute with his second yellow card (taking a free kick before the referee's whistle), the Slovaks seemed to draw confidence. Several decent chances led to a set play in the 85th minute that gave striker Juraj Halenár the ball 10 metres in front of the net. But Halenár struck the ball straight at keeper Julio Cesar, and Inter kept Artmedia at bay until the final whistle with some dangerous breaks by their formidable striker, the Brazilian Adriano, and midfielder Luis Figo of Portugal.
"We really needed to win today," said Inter coach Roberto Mancini. "We played well and controlled the game, and we're happy with the outcome."
Despite the close result, Milan appeared at times to far outclass the Petržalka side, particularly in the first half. Their passing was fluid and accurate, their ball control mesmerizing, and their defence impregnable. Artmedia, on the other hand, constantly found themselves in heavy traffic and under pressure, and botched the few opportunities they had with wild passing and poor communication. Even Veron's sending-off, which left the Slovaks with a man advantage, failed to do more than briefly even the odds until Milan again began to press.
"After Veron was sent off I was sure we would manage to gain a draw with Inter," said Weiss, singling out several players whose performance had disappointed him. "Halenár and [Branislav] Fodrek especially are capable of more than they gave."
Halenár was the hero of Artmedia's UEFA Cup opener with Glasgow Celtic on July 26, scoring a hat-trick to help Petržalka to an improbable 5-0 win. A 0-4 shellacking in Glasgow nevertheless sent the team through on goal differential to their next opponent, Partizan, whom they beat in a shootout 4-3 on August 23 after two scoreless matches.
Artmedia's opponents for its remaining two Group H home games on November 1 and December 6 are Glasgow Rangers and Porto, respectively, teams that at least on paper are weaker than Inter Milan.
"We'll try and pick up a few points against Porto and Rangers," said Weiss. "We'll have to see what we're capable of."
19. Sep 2005 at 0:00 | Tom Nicholson