Few sides ended last season quite like Slovakian double winners ŠK Slovan Bratislava. Unbeaten in 25 games in all competitions from 23 October 2010, Karel Jarolím's team exploded into 2011: they romped to the title, despite trailing leaders MŠK Žilina by 12 points at the winter break, winning 14 of their last 15 First League fixtures.
Now the challenge for the club that beat FC Barcelona in the 1968/69 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup final is to take that momentum into the UEFA Champions League. "
The group phase is our main objective – it may be a dream but we will try to make it a reality," said Jarolím, 54, the former SK Slavia Praha player and coach who is shining in his first Slovakian role.
Horizons are shifting at Slovan, with the acquisition of defensive midfielder Jiří Kladrubský from AC Sparta Praha a major development this summer. The Slovak league had been regarded as weaker than its Czech counterpart, but Jarolím said of the 25-year-old's arrival: "It is not a backward step for him. Slovan won the league and the cup, Sparta didn't."
Local estimates suggest a fee of around €400,000 was paid for Kladrubský, making it the biggest transfer in Slovakia for three years. A more significant move came when last season's 22-goal top scorer Filip Šebo rejected a switch to Germany's Hannover 96 to stay at Slovan, a proposal few of his countrymen would have been able to resist.
Slovan's owner, Ivan Kmotrík, met the 27-year-old and, according to local gossip, agreed to almost match the wage incentive offered by the Bundesliga outfit. "Thanks to Hannover for the offer, but I will stay here," explained Šebo. "I feel my job at Slovan is not over yet and I am also hungry for success in the Champions League, like the owner is."
Things are not quite perfect, however. With their traditional Tehelné pole home under reconstruction, Slovan are playing at the Pasienky Stadium again this season, athough Kmotrík has said he is ready to build a whole new arena for the club. Such talk indicates an exciting future for the side that won eight Czechoslovakian titles and six more since independence.
Yet drawing Kazakh champions FC Tobol Kostanay in the UEFA Champions League second qualifying round has thrown a spanner into the works. "From a geographical point of view this was the worst possible draw," said Jarolím glumly. Even so, if Slovan can maintain their stunning form in next week's opener, jet lag could well be the worst of their worries in the return fixture.
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