Slovakian football is reeling from the shockwaves of "Black Thursday" when their three European hopefuls crashed out of the UEFA Europa League, conceding 20 goals in the process.
Hope to despair
The mood after the play-off first legs had been one of hope. MŠK Žilina had secured a share of the spoils with FK Partizan as, with a sensational 3-3 draw, had MFK Košice against Italian giants AS Roma. Only titleholders ŠK Slovan Bratislava were effectively out of their tie with AFC Ajax having lost 5-0. That, however, set the tone for their domestic rivals whose aspirations were swiftly muted by a deluge of second-leg goals. Surveying the aftermath on Friday, the equation was simple. While neighbours Austria have four sides still in UEFA club competition and the Czech Republic two, Slovakia have none.
The downfall came in spectacular style. Košice had arrived at the Stadio Olimpico dreaming of a famous triumph yet, within 18 minutes they were living a nightmare. "To concede five goals inside 20 minutes? I have never experienced anything like it," admitted defender Róbert Cicman, whose side at least managed to stem the flow before losing 7-1. "We really were brought crashing back to earth. We must apologise to our fans." With Košice second from bottom after eight games of the Superliga season a revival of domestic fortunes would be a start, though they may need to keep hold of striker Ján Novák who has attracted attention following his three goals in the Roma tie.
Slovan Bratislava had fared little better in their away leg against Ajax as Luis Suárez scored four goals in a 5-0 victory. "We just don't have players of the calibre of Ajax," conceded captain Samuel Slovák. "I understand people are frustrated, but we can't yet hold our own in such games." They gave a better account of themselves at home, limiting the four-time European champions to a 2-1 win, yet the damage had been done in Amsterdam. A 3-0 defeat by 1. FC Tatran Prešov a few days later then led coach Dušan Uhrin to resign, saying: "I am not just quitting this team, I am quitting coaching full stop. I will never coach again."
Former FC Artmedia Petržalka coach Michal Hipp has fared better since replacing Uhrin, even if he could not achieve the impossible and arrest Slovakia's slide from Europe. Nor could Žilina as they lost 2-0 at home to Partizan to complete what has been dubbed "Black Thursday". For the second time in three seasons Slovakia have no representatives in European competition. But the painful malaise could have a ready cure, as on Saturday the national team take on arch-rivals the Czech Republic in FIFA World Cup qualifying. Victory could do wonders.
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