Slovakia Camp Focus – Paraguay clash still holds qualification key

With the disappointment of two dropped points to New Zealand behind them, attention within the Slovakian camp now turns to Sunday’s must win clash with Paraguay . Long before the big kick-off this fixture was set to be the play-off for second spot in Group F, behind defending Champions Italy, and after the previous results for both sides it looks still to be true.

During Slovakia ’s qualification campaign they often went into big games un-fancied, a status that worked well for them. This tag will be back in place when they face the South Americans, who are largely expected to claim all three points after holding the Azzurri to 1-1 draw in their opener.

As underdogs in qualifying the Repre achieved some memorable results, most astonishing of all was their 2-1 win away in Prague. The score line was not only a memorable one in terms of securing a place in South Africa, but for the politics and the rivalry between the two nations. Slovakia only became independent from the Czech Republic and the communist rule of Czechoslovakia in 1993 in an event referred to as the Velvet Divorce. In football terms, the pair had an impressive record reaching the World Cup twice and making it to the Quarter final stage in two separate occasions. Their last ever appearance was at Italia 90, with now Slovakian head Coach Vladimir Weiss part of the squad that got to the final eight.

The fixture was about much more than just football for both sets of fans, and after just 22 minutes Stanislav Sestak gave the travellers cause for celebration. This festivity was however short lived as A.C Milan midfielder Marek Jankulovski struck to level the scores. But it was to be the fairy tale ending for Weiss’ men as Erik Jendrisek’s 83rd minute goal secured the three points.

So how did the footballing minnows overcome the established footballing name of the Czech Republic? The secret was in the formation. Weiss set his team out with the 4-5-1 setup allowing Marek Hamsik to play off of the front man in a position where he could influence play. This was what was missing from Tuesday’s encounter with the All Whites. It was obvious to see that the 22-year-old was unable to put his stamp on the game as he was used on the left of a four man midfield. Against the more disciplined Paraguay ,Hamsik will need to be on the very top of his game and the 4-5-1 allows the captain to support the lone forward who will most likely be Robert Vittek. This formation will also allow Stanislav Sestak to operate from the wide left. A role the VfL Bochum man enjoys for both club and country.

Heading into the tournament the key men for the Repre were seen to be Hamsik and centre-half Martin Skrtel, but it was indeed Sestak who made the largest impact on actually getting his side into the finals. The 27-year-old ended the qualifying campaign with an impressive tally of six goals, making him top scorer within the squad. The relatively unknown front-man’s career began with FC Tatran Presov in his homeland, where he had an impressive debut season bagging nine goals and attracting the interest of Slovan Bratislava. Sestak spent two seasons with the Belasi (Sky Blues) but never lived up to expectations scoring just six goals in 58 appearances. Then manager Jozef Adamec lost patience with the unpredictable front man and sold him to league rivals MSK Zilina. It was here that he got his big break, with regular first team action. In the 2005/06 season Sestak finished the as the league’s top scorer, although Zilina failed to make a real impact on the league. The following season this changed and the Sosoni won the league with the Slovakian front-man finishing with 15 goals taking his overall tally to 49 for the club. This impact did not go un-noticed as VfL Bochum snapped up the forward for an undisclosed fee, where he joined the strong Slovakian contingent in the Bundesliga, and made an impact on the national set-up.

Weiss will need to get the best out of Sestak if his side are to get a result on Sunday, it’s time for 4-5-1.

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