MŠK Žilina are certain to top the Slovakian table until at least the end of February, but coach Pavel Hapal is "not completely satisfied" with the Yellow-Greens gritty successes to date.
A 2-0 home win against champions FC Slovan Bratislava on 18 October propelled Žilina to the top of the table, and they have not budged since. With a four-point lead over Slovan going into the final round of 2009, they are sure to be leading the rankings when the Slovakian season emerges from its winter hibernation on 27 February 2010. Hapal, however, is not getting carried away. "It's great to be top but to be honest, we have had sloppy performances in some games," said the 40-year-old former Czechoslovakia and Czech Republic international. "We have also had a lot of close games at home. I am not completely satisfied. Our defence is good but we have problems in attack. We have wasted so many chances."
Defence has certainly been a crucial element in the club's bid to capture a fifth Slovak title, following successes in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2007. They have conceded just eight times in their first 18 games and even the hypercritical Hapal was willing "to praise the fact we have been able to adapt to all of our opponents' styles of play". Success has come at a cost, with Dušan Perniš's performances for Žilina prompting Scottish side Dundee United FC to agree a move for the goalkeeper during the winter break. However, the club are used to seeing their best players thrive abroad with Slovak internationals Stanislav Šesták (VFL Bochum 1848), Peter Pekarík (VFL Wolfsburg), Ján Mucha (Legia Warszawa), Radoslav Zábavník (FC Terek Grozny) and Zdeno Štrba (Skoda Xanthi FC) all having passed through their ranks.
The conveyor belt of talent looks likely to be running for some time to come, with Slovakia's first post-independence coach – Dr Jozef Vengloš – impressed with Žilina's set-up on a recent trip to open the club's hall of fame. "It's an exceptionally organised club with a good structure, management and solid work," said the highly regarded 73-year-old. The club have become an even more attractive proposition following renovation work on their Stadium Pod Dubňom, with national team boss Vladimír Weiss so impressed with the atmosphere during Slovakia's recent 2-1 friendly win against Chile that he has asked for future international qualifiers to be played at the well-appointed venue.
However, Hapal is not falling victim to any hype. While the club have shone in the league, they were knocked out of the UEFA Europa League play-offs by FK Partizan and ousted by MFK Košice in the third round of this season's Slovakian Cup. "Of course, both of those eliminations hurt," said Hapal, whose wounded pride may yet inspire him to title success.
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