Slovakian football has been creating its own modern history ever since Czechoslovakia split into Slovakia and the Czech Republic in 1993. Yet while Slovakia attempts to forge a new football identity, it should not be forgotten that the Slovak Football Association (Slovenský futbalový zväz – SFS) was formed as far back as 1938, nor that between 1939 and 1945 an independent Slovak league was played.
When the two countries were united, the Slovakians had many outstanding personalities who stamped their name on Czechoslovakia's football story and assisted the nation in achieving glory. These included Dr Ivan Chodák, after whom a Slovak fair play award is named, and Ladislav Kubala, one of the most prominent players in the annals of FC Barcelona.
Another Slovakian, Dr Josef Vengloš, helped Václav Ježek coach the Czechoslovakia national team that won the 1976 UEFA European Championship, before he assumed sole responsibility for the side and steered them to third place at the 1980 tournament. Dr Vengloš also worked at clubs in Portugal, England, Turkey, Scotland and Japan, as well as becoming a central figure in UEFA and FIFA technical programmes.
Ján Popluhár is considered the best Slovak player of the 20th century: the legendary ŠK Slovan Bratislava and 1. FC Brno libero topped a poll to decide the foremost footballer of the age. Other notable talents have included Lubomír Moravčík, who played with distinction at AS Saint-Etienne, SC Bastia and Celtic FC, and Peter Dubovský, formerly of Real Madrid CF and Real Oviedo, who died tragically in 2000.
In UEFA EURO and FIFA qualifying tournaments, Slovakia had been unfortunate to find stronger rivals barring their path to major finals. However, they eventually made the breakthrough by reaching South Africa 2010; coach Vladimír Weiss's team won their crucial last qualifier 1-0 in Poland to clinch pole position in a group also containing Slovenia and the Czech Republic. Their reward was a FIFA World Cup pool featuring Italy, Paraguay and New Zealand, from which they progressed to the round of 16 after a famous 3-2 win over the Azzurri, which eliminated the holders from the competition.
The seeds for this success had arguably been planted with the intensive youth development programme that yielded fourth place at the UEFA European Under-21 Championship of 2000 and a ticket to the Sydney Olympics.
Slovakia's World Cup feat also made up for previous near misses. With Jozef Adamec in charge of players such as Peter Babnič, Vladimír Janočko, Jozef Valachovič, Juraj Buček, Vladimír Labant and Vratislav Greško, the national side had been edged into third spot by Sweden and Turkey in their 2002 bid. England and Turkey then pipped them to the post in UEFA EURO 2004 qualification. Coach Dušan Galis fared better en route to the 2006 World Cup in Germany, as Slovakia came second in their section behind Portugal, only to lose heavily to Spain in a play-off. Finally, though, Weiss struck gold, having replaced Ján Kocian after an unhappy UEFA EURO 2008 attempt.
On the club scene, 2009 Slovak champions Slovan Bratislava – who lifted the 1969 European Cup Winners' Cup after defeating Barcelona 3-2 in Basel – FC Spartak Trnava, MŠK Žilina and the now defunct AŠK Inter Bratislava have been regular participants in European competition. The goal for these sides must surely be to reach new heights.
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