The UEFA Champions League is once again in sight for the most celebrated club in Slovakia, with FC BATE Borisov standing between ŠK Slovan Bratislava and their goal. As they bid to become the fourth Slovakian club – after 1. FC Košice (1997/98), FC Artmedia Petržalka (2005/06) and MŠK Žilina (2010/11) – to dine at Europe's top table, UEFA.com explains what makes Slovan special.
Nickname: Belasí (Sky blues)
Domestic honours (most recent triumph in brackets)
League title: 20 (2014)
National cup: 18 (2013)
They are the only Slovakian side to have won a major European trophy
Under Michal Vičan, Slovan beat FC Barcelona 3-2 in the 1969 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup final in Basel, Ľudovít Cvetler, Vladimír Hrivnák and Ján Čapkovič the scorers as the Bratislava club became the first Slovakian side – and indeed the first from Eastern Europe – to win a major UEFA trophy. "Taxis came to pick up each individual player in Vienna, and there were 15,000 fans waiting for us back at Tehelné pole," remembered Čapkovič. "We were overwhelmed. It was like a May Day parade." Having clinched eight titles since independence, and a raft of honours in the former Czechoslovakia, Slovan are also the most successful club in local domestic football.
They boasted the best Slovakian player of the 20th century
Defender Ján Popluhár was named as Slovakia's footballer of the century as well as the nation's Golden Player as part of UEFA's Jubilee celebrations in 2004. A runner-up at the 1962 FIFA World Cup, Popluhár represented Slovan from 1955 to 1969, but sadly passed away in March 2011, aged 75. It was a measure of his class as a defender that he never received a red card, and as he explained: "I didn't play aggressively. Fair play was always the most important thing for me."
One of their star players is immortalised in bronze at the Camp Nou
Midfielder László – or Ladislav to his Slovak fans – Kubala is regarded by many as the best player in Barcelona's history. Kubala's parents were born in Bratislava, but he fled the city in 1948, apparently to avoid military service, later heading west and reaching his peak with Barcelona from 1951 to 1961. Kubala died in 2002 aged 74, having played for three national teams: Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Spain.
They are longing to return to their home stadium
Slovan are playing their home games at the nearby Štadión Pasienky while work is done to overhaul their Tehelné pole home, which has been the traditional home of the national team too. A reported crowd of nearly 70,000 saw a Slovakian representative team beat Yugoslavia 1-0 in a tournament at Tehelné pole in 1957, and 60,000 watched a friendly between Slovan and Garrincha's CR Botafogo in 1955. In another legendary game, Czechoslovakia beat Brazil 3-2, and forward Róbert Vittek feels Slovan are not quite themselves away from the stadium they last graced in 2009: "When we come back to Tehelné pole, I am sure a lot more fans will come to support us."
Their players dominated Czechoslovakia's 1976 UEFA European Championship squad
Czechoslovakia's 1976 success in Yugoslavia hinged on a core group of Slovan players. With six called up – Ján Pivarník, Jozef Čapkovič, Anton Ondruš, Koloman Gögh, Marián Masný and Ján Švehlík, the latter now Slovan's sporting director – Slovan's players were the largest contingent from a single club in Václav Ježek's travelling party. "You don't forget an experience like that," recalled Švehlík. "I have forgotten plenty of things, but the key moments from that time in Yugoslavia will be with me for the rest of my life."
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