The flags have been folded away and the face-paint washed clean — but on Wednesday it might all make its way out again.
After Saturday’s disappointment in Bratislava, when Slovakia’s footballers missed the opportunity to celebrate qualification for next summer’s World Cup on home soil, attention has now turned to a match in Silesia, Poland, this week when they have the rare luxury of a second chance.
Although Slovenia’s players, who clinched a 2-0 victory over Slovakia at the Tehelne Pole Stadium, celebrated as though they had secured their passage to South Africa, Vladimir Weiss’s men remain in pole position for qualification from Group 3.
Success against a Poland side with nothing but pride to play for would still guarantee a place at the World Cup for Slovakia. Slovenia are all but certain to gain three points from their match against San Marino, so anything but victory for Slovakia will mean the vagaries of the play-offs, where some of European football’s dominant forces await.
But Slovakia have already beaten Poland once this campaign, and have also won against the Czech Republic and Northern Ireland on their travels. There is still cause for confidence in the supporters, even if the players and officials were notably downbeat after Saturday’s defeat.
“Of course I regret that we did not manage to win the match,” said Weiss. “We lost it tactically as well as on the pitch. We did not win it in our minds. I take responsibility for that.”
Weiss will now have to tinker with his line up after losing the midfielder Miroslav Stoch and the defensive trio of Radoslav Zabavník, Martin Škrtel and Ján Ďurica, all of whom were booked against Slovenia and will miss the trip to Poland through suspension.
Weiss will likely turn to the Leeds United defender Lubomir Michalik as cover at the back and can also select Stanislav Sestak, who scored both goals against Poland in October, after suspension. Marek Sapara, who was ruled out of the Slovenia game through injury, is also available.
“I am very unhappy,” said Ďurica after Saturday’s game. “It is hard to find words after a match like that. We lost and disappointed all Slovaks… But sport is like that; it includes victories as well as defeats.”
And so, after tasting that bitterness, Slovakia will be waiting on Wednesday to enjoy the flipside once again.
12. Oct 2009 at 0:00 | Howard Swains