By Maura Gladys
Slovakia’s path to qualification for Euro 2012 is littered with teams much tougher than this weekend’s opponent, Andorra. However, a victory against the Pyrenees squad will make the rest of Slovakia’s journey much less arduous and potentially hand them full control of first place in Group B.
Slovakia currently sits atop the group with 10 points, alongside Russia and Ireland. Russia takes on Armenia on Saturday, who surprisingly held Russia to a goalless draw the last time the two squads met, while Ireland takes on lowly Macedonia. A loss or draw from either team would allow Slovakia to take a firm hold on first place, and provide at least a little bit of a cushion for the Repre when the three squads face off in the fall.
Manager Vladimir Weiss will be missing several stars, however he has named several strong replacements. Stalwart defender Martin Skrtel is out with a groin injury while, Vladimir Weiss, Adam Nemec and Marek Sapara are also hurting. Winger Miroslav Stoch and goalkeeper Jan Mucha will also miss the match after accumulating too many yellow cards in previous matches.
Weiss named Juraj Piroska to fill in for Nemec while newcomer Erik Cikos may be called on to fill some other holes. The defender was called up by Weiss after his impressive recent form for Wisla Krakow, the recently-crowned Polish League champions.
Weiss did not name a replacement for Skrtel at center back, revealing that he is confident in his defense’s ability to hold off Andorra even without Skrtel. With Tomas Hubocan, Kornel Salata and defensive midfielder Miroslav Karhan at Weiss’ disposal, he should put out a solid defense.
The biggest question is who will fill in for the suspended Mucha in goal. Weiss must choose between Dusan Pernis and Marian Kello, both of whom ply their trade in the Scottish Premier League, at Dundee United and Hearts, respectively. Both had successful seasons in the SPL. Kello kept 12 clean sheets for third-place Hearts while Pernis had 11 clean sheets for fourth-place Dundee. But Weiss has said that the starter will be the keeper who stands out more in the training days leading up to the game.
The main matchup of the game will be between Slovakia’s offense and Andorra’s defense as Slovakia has vowed to push forward as much as possible and Andorra has stated that it will play a mostly defensive game. After only winning 1-0 in their last meeting on March 26, and being pushed a little harder than they would have liked, the Repre will be out to reassert their dominance. Some of Slovakia’s struggles in that match can be attributed to the poor quality of the pitch, but with a home match in Bratislava this time around, they have no excuses for not disposing of Andorra and proving that they deserve to qualify for next summer’s tournament.