Slovakia U19 v Wales U19
NTC Senec / Slovakia Cup / 7th May 2018
“I just wouldn’t cope if we got Slovakia in the playoffs,” was my cry as Slovakia secured 2nd place in their World Cup qualifying group on an October night in Trnava. I’d been to every single Slovakia home game during qualifying and so I felt a huge attachment to the national team. In a group containing England, an apparent playoff place was a good result for Slovakia. Also, looking on course to finish their group with a play-off place was my home land, Wales. I would have been gutted if Wales drew Slovakia in the play-offs, although I obviously would back my home land over the Slovaks. Well, this thinking proved far too premature and ultimately the moral of this will be careful what you wish for…
24 hours after Slovakia had beaten Malta in Trnava, neither Wales nor Slovakia had made the playoffs and suddenly I felt very silly. Wales blew their chance to make it by losing to the Irish in Cardiff and results that night meant that Slovakia had sunk to being the group runners-up with the lowest points and thus fell out of the playoffs too. It was a depressing evening for me and in true superstitious football fan fashion, I blamed both countries’ failure on my wish of Slovakia not drawing Wales. However, I would eventually get my Slovakia v Wales game though – sort of. It would just come 7 months later.
The Slovakia Cup 2018 was rolling into town!…Well, not really I suppose. Really, it was more like it was rolling into the villages surrounding Trnava and Bratislava. It’s a weird tournament too. The Slovakia Cup is an annual (I think) U19 trophy hosted in Slovakia (obviously). So which glamorous youth sides would be gracing Slovak soil: well roll on up to see giants of youth football such Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, USA, Hungary, Ukraine and the Czech Republic. Of course Slovakia would be there too, but also flying into Slovakia would be the Land of my Fathers, Wales. Welsh international football – even at U19 level – is welcome in Slovakia, especially when it’s in a friendly format.
Hosting the tournament were villages such Červeník (a village I once watched 6th tier football at once, but never even bothered to blog about), Pusté Úľany, Dunajská Lužná and Jaslovské Bohunice. The largest place hosting matches was the town of Senec, where the final would be held and where Slovakia would play Wales on a Monday afternoon.
Slovakia had itself a public holiday on the Tuesday, but my school were generous enough us to give us teachers and students the Monday off too; this meant I had a whole afternoon to enjoy in Senec before the big 4pm kick-off. And enjoy it we did.
Around midday I met Ralph in Trnava train station, after he had been on a weekend jolly around east Slovakia. A quick beer at the train station and we were onto Galanta, where we’d make a quick change for the train to Senec – located just 25km outside of Bratislava. En route we even got to see Pusté Úľany – another village venue for Wales in the Slovakia Cup. What was perplexing though was the fact it didn’t seem to be a village at all, just some farmland. Any sort of community seem to elude our eye sight, let alone a football ground. Wales did indeed play there the next day, but I have no idea where.
We arrived at Senec before 1pm and immediately it was to our liking. Senec is a town famous for its lake, a lake many locals visit during the summer months. It certainly seems to be one of those towns where more people own holiday homes by the lake than actually permanently live there. It was a scorcher of a day in Slovakia, so we were more than happy to spend our afternoon drinking at Slnečné jazerá (‘Sunny Lakes’). More conveniently, the football ground was located just a short walk away on the other side of the lake.
We settled on a small beer garden near the lake and enjoyed a few beers in the sun. Unsurprisingly, it seemed the Welsh public were not too enamoured with a week away watching U19 football and me and Ralph seemed to be the only Welshmen in the village – for now at least. Of course, we’d be soon joined by the team and the coaching staff and talk soon turned to one man in particular: the Welsh U19 Head Coach – Paul Bodin. We decided that if we didn’t get a photo with the former Welsh International left-back, the day would be a failure. Soon, we had another idea and we decided that Paul should perform a more worthy duty for Ralph’s beloved FK Blansko.
The tales of 4th division FK Blansko and their trio of British ‘Ultras’, The Blansko Klobása, have featured regularly on this blog, so much so that Ralph declared me an honorable member of TBK. Just weeks before our trip to Senec, Ralph had been at a Blansko game and very quickly fallen in love with their new away shirt. He was soon in touch with players at the club and explained that this shirt should be available to the masses of Blansko fans around the world. After messaging around, Ralph eventually had 13 orders for this Blansko away shirt with Blansko fandom stretching as far and wide as Brazil apparently. Of course, I wanted one too and so Ralph had brought my new Blansko shirt along with him. We decided that we needed someone illustrious to present me with one of only 13 Blansko away shirts in the world and we felt Paul Bodin had the pedigree to perform such a task. We’d see if we could bag him for a photo later.
We enjoyed our couple hours in the sun, but soon it was time for important matters: Wales’ opening bow in the Slovakia Cup was upon us.
A ten minute walk around the lake and one dead-end later and we soon found ourselves strolling towards the entrance of NTC Senec. It seemed that there was no anticipation of a crowd and there was no entry fee for the game.
NTC Senec is a pretty good ground by Slovak standards and even more so considering that the only team that plays there now are 5th tier MSK Senec. However, this is a stadium that has hosted international football as recently as 2014; Slovakia beat Montenegro 1-0 there in a friendly. The ground also hosted Slovak top flight’s DAC Dunajská Streda for half a season as they built their new stadium (although they left early to their half-built stadium as they couldn’t win for love nor money in Senec). I get the impression that there were grander plans planned for the stadium as the NTC stands for ‘National Training Centre’ and the facilities were generally quite good. Nonetheless, all it really is now is just a stadium that seems rarely used with 1 or 2 adjoining pitches. I have to say though, the stadium is quite cool.
The stadium is a fairly standard, but a neat and tidy setup with one main stand and a smaller, open seating stand opposite, which is connected by a standing terrace behind the goal. The ‘cool’ factor of the stadium definitely comes in its location with the ground being flanked completely on two sides by the adjacent lake. Head to the top of the main stand and look out and you could fool yourself into thinking the stadium is its own little island
Me and Ralph set our spot behind the goal and unfurled the Welsh flag I’d brought along, the same flag that hangs above my bed every night. Thus, it proved to be a bit flimsy and so I ended up just wearing it as wonderful cape. The flag got the attention of two other Welsh folk in the stadium, as we were soon joined by the parents of Wales keeper Adam Przybek. We had a great chat with them both and it was interesting to hear about how it is being a parent of young footballer trying to make it in the game. Saying that, my favourite part of the conversation was talking to Adam’s dad about Alan Pardew and his interesting time at the Hawthorns; fair to say, it sounded all very Pardew.
Next we were joined by a member of the official Welsh team contingent. I’d met Mark Pitman a few Boxing Days ago in the Port Talbot Town clubhouse, before a Port Talbot v Afan Lido derby. Senec is a different world to Port Talbot. Now Mark does media stuff for the FAW and he had spotted an opportunity for a photo of Wales’ 4 person away fans for the official Twitter feed.
I rushed back from the bar with another beer just as Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau was firing up with the two teams of youngsters now lined up on the pitch. Once the thumping sounds of the Slovak anthem was done, it was time for the Slovakia Cup to get underway.
The game itself was fairly good with some nice football from both teams – although the game maybe lacked a bit of ‘grit’; not that I expected all blood and thunder in an U19 game.
Undoubtedly, Slovakia started the better team and they grabbed their deserved opener in the 8th minute. A great ball led to a simple headed finish for Samuel Sula.
With Slovakia 1-0 up, we opted to move from our perch behind the goal and wander over to the terrace by the side. Being a football fan, superstition is part and parcel of life and so I thought this switch may even bring the team some luck.
Some names rung a bell, but generally we were not too familiar with the Welsh players on show and so we decided to work out who might be a star of the future. From the early moments of the game, my eye had been caught by the Welsh winger Jack Vale. Apparently the lad is highly thought of at his club, Blackburn Rovers, too. Vale would have Wales’ first real close effort of the game and slowly Wales began to come into the game.
There were chances for both teams with Wales’ keeper Ratcliffe making two great saves to keep the score at 1-0. However, just as it looked like the score wouldn’t be changing before half-time Wales earned themselves a penalty. Up stepped Jack Vale to make it 1-1.
Half-time: Slovakia U19 1 – 1 Wales U19.
I lamented in a recent blog how my beloved cigánska pečienka – my Slovak football food of choice – seems to have been in short supply since the turn of the year. So I was extremely happy to see the chicken-bunned wonder on sale at the food bar in Senec. It was a glorious companion to another plastic cup full of Starobrno.
Despite ending the first half well, Wales had a rocky start to the second. It only took until the 50th minute for Slovakia to be back in the lead as a simple pass with converted by David Strelec from inside the box.
The game was still very even, but football cares not for evenness and soon Slovakia made it 3-1. Again, the goal was simple, as Slovakia grabbed their 3rd via an easy header from a corner.
Again, we switched our position in the stadium and went and stood atop the main stand. As mentioned earlier, the view from here was magnificent with the lake making a beautiful backdrop to the stadium. The lake was beautiful, but the score was about to become less beautiful for Wales.
Wales didn’t seem to drop their heads, despite now looking defeated, and they still played some good stuff, although they were creating little. It was harsh maybe, but Slovakia finished up the days scoring by adding a 4th goal. A nice run from Strelec took him through on goal to make it 4-1.
Full-time: Slovakia U19 4 – 1 Wales U19.
The score was maybe a bit harsh, but the Slovaks definitely the better team and they looked to be a good team in general. The Slovak youth teams continue to do well. Slovakia would also go on to eventually lift the Slovakia Cup with a 1-0 win over the Czech Republic in the final. Wales, on the other hand, would eventually finish up in 6th out of 8 in the Slovakia Cup after losing a 5th/6th place play-off (yes, they had one of those).
It was now time for Operation Paul Bodin, but finding the man proved remarkably easy. As we exited at the back of the stand, we noticed that the Wales team bus was waiting and as the players headed for the bus, we decided to wait for the U19 gaffer. It took just a couple of minutes for Paul to appear and we made our move. I doubt Paul has had to deal with many requests for him to pose with a Czech 4th division club shirt, but he was more than happy to do so, if also a little bemused. We had the briefest of chats with the former left-back, he thanked us for coming (“I only live down the road Paul, so no problem”) and then it was time to roll out of Senec.
Craggy, of Blansko Klobasa fame, has a catchphrase on the gang’s trips around central Europe: “I could live here.” I decided to reel out the phrase here in Senec – it really is a lovely, little town. MAybe I should just stick with a holiday home there though, as I’d imagine Sunny lakes loose their wow factor when it isn’t sunny. You have to love a town with a football ground in that location. Just a shame about the Wales result. A great day nonetheless and as always: Cymru am Byth.
Highlights: Wales in Slovakia!, Senec is nice, great lake, good ground, Jack Vale, Cigánska pečienka, Paul Bodin.
Low Points: the result obviously.
See all my photos from Senec here.