Outclassed, outplayed, out-of-their-depth. Just three statements that were blindingly obvious during Sundays clash with Paraguay. A game entered with so much hope, and expectation ended in disappointment as Enrique Vera and Cristian Riveros secured a 2-0 win for the South Americans, putting them firmly in the Group F driving seat, conversely leaving Slovakia bottom with just one game left to play.
It wasn’t so much the result that was the most disappointing factor of the clash, as Paraguay were clear favourites, it was the Repre’s lack of imagination or hunger to take the game to Gerardo Martino’s side. Having drew with minnows New Zealand in the opening game, the onus was on the Slovaks to gain maximum points from the encounter in Bloemfontein. However from the outset there was a real lack of ambition from Weiss’ men, summed up as Justo Villar in the Paraguayan goal was only called into action on one occasion, and that was deep into second half stoppage time, when the game was well and truly lost.
To the mangers credit he had no complaints at the result: We made two mistakes and were punished for them. It was a high quality opponent and their victory was deserved,” admitted Weiss. “We lost the match because we were not bold upfield. Paraguay didn’t play as good as they can and still we lost. It is a good learning experience for my team and we are happy to be at the World Cup.” Although the result was a disappointment, Sunday did end on a positive note as the All Whites held World Champions and Group F rivals Italy to a 1-1 draw leaving the Slovaks just one point off of both rivals and a further two points off of La Albirroja.
Slovakia now head into their final game with the Azzurri knowing only a win, coupled with a draw or loss for the Kiwis, will secure a spot in the final 16. If there is one positive to take into Thursday’s make-or-break tie, it is the fact that the Group F favourites are also performing well below par. Having entered the competition as one of the favourites to be taking the trophy home with them, Marcello Lippi’s side have failed to live up to their billing.
Things must change for Lippi’s men, and inspirational midfielder Daniele De Rossi has ordered a rallying cry to his team mates: “We must improve immediately, otherwise we won’t qualify. We must win at all costs, and then, should we get second place, there will be Holland. But before thinking about this, we must overcome the round. We must improve together. We are always missing something, a little in the final phase. I don’t talk about forwards, but about the whole team. Surely, we can do better.” The midfielder told journalist in the wake of the 1-1 draw with the Australasians.
Vladimir Weiss will be looking at Marek Hamsik to improve on his below par form this tournament if his side are to get anything out of the clash with the Italians men. The 22-year-old took over the national captaincy from striker Robert Vittek during his drop in form due to injury problems and since then been the heartbeat of his national side. With an uncertain future at club level due to interest from some of Europe’s top club sides, coupled with captaining his nation at their first ever appearance it is no wonder the playmaker’s form has taken a dip. Thursdays match may well be Hamsik’s last opportunity to showcase his abilities on the biggest stage this year and justify the hype. Weiss will need his man on song in Johannesburg, if they are to meet their aim of making the knockout round.