A Slovakian side led by a former Czech international against a Czech team with a Slovakian coach – MFK Košice v FC Slovan Liberec comes with a particularly intriguing narrative.
Ex-Slovakia midfielder Samuel Slovák took charge of Liberec in June, having previously occupied the helm at ŠK Slovan Bratislava where he won the double in 2012/13. Slovák also had a brief spell as a Liberec player in the 2002/03 season. Now he returns to Slovakia to take on Košice in the first leg of their UEFA Europa League second qualifying round tie.
"There were a few Slovakian teams, so I was half-expecting we might be drawn against one of them," said Slovák. "
Košice are among the strongest sides we could have played. Of course it is a very interesting trip for me, but we are a team that showed our qualities in the previous Europa League season [reaching the last 32]. I believe our experience will play a decisive part and we will handle the tie well and qualify."
The connections do not end there. Liberec's latest signing is midfielder Tomáš Ďubek, who was voted best player in the Slovak First League two seasons ago. He and his team-mates will be looking to end a run of seven matches without victory for Czech sides against Slovakian teams.
At the Košice helm is Radoslav Látal, a man capped 58 times by the Czech Republic, most notably in a 3-0 win against Slovakia during 1998 FIFA World Cup qualifying. Látal's men approach the game having opened their domestic campaign with a 2-1 home defeat by Dukla Banská Bystrica on Saturday, prompting critical words from the coach. "
They didn't train very well in the summer, speaking more than concentrating on their duties," he said.
However, Košice sporting director Ivan Kozák remains optimistic. He said: "Látal knows Czech football very well and has been on the Košice bench much longer than Samuel Slovák with Liberec. This is certainly our advantage. We need to get a good result from the first leg to have a real chance of advancing to the next stage."
Thursday also promises to be a special occasion for Košice captain Peter Šinglár, who played for Liberec between 2004 and 2008, lifting the Czech title midway through that stint. "I have only very happy memories," said Šinglár. "There is not a single thing I could complain about. I was a regular, I was fit and we won the title – it was a marvellous time."
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