Central Slovakia cross the border into Poland among the favourites to win the UEFA Regions' Cup.
By Stanislav Hlavácek
The central region of Slovakia is one of intense natural beauty. As they cross the Tatra mountains to reach Malopolska for the UEFA Regions' Cup finals, Central Slovakia will be on familiar territory - their home region is noted for its mountains with many famous skiing resorts and spas.
Local football clubs may lack the financial resources of their opponents in western Slovakia, but the region none the less boasts four top-flight teams, including three-time Slovakian champions MŠK Žilina, Slovakian Cup holders FK Dukla Banská Bystrica, MFK Ružomberok and FC Rimavská Sobota.
THE MAN IN COMMAND
At the age of 61, Central Slovakia coach Ján Petrák can boast 16 years of experience coaching lower league sides in Slovakia. His assistant, Ivan Šimcek, also has plenty to offer, having played as a forward in the top division in Slovakia for both Žilina and Banská Bystrica. Petrák has been in charge of Central Slovakia since 2003 and led them to successes in two qualifying rounds to bring them to the finals. He is a landlord by profession, but football remains a fulfilling hobby.
uefa.com: What are you hoping to achieve at the Regions' Cup finals?
Ján Petrák: Qualifying for the final tournament is the biggest achievement in the history of Slovakian amateur football as well in my career and we hope to be able to show our strength among the top European teams. We have practically no information about our opponents, but they don't know much about us either. We must rely on our own skills.
uefa.com: Have you enjoyed playing in the competition so far?
Petrák: Sure we did. We were very satisfied and surprised by our play and results in both the previous qualifying tournaments. The UEFA delegates praised our performances and I hope they were not just being polite. They said we are joint favourites to win in Poland, but we are remaining modest.
uefa.com: What do you feel are the strengths of your team?
Petrák: First of all we have a compact team without so-called stars. I decided to pick players from the three most experienced clubs in the region - my assistant's team [FK] Turcianske Teplice, [FK] Lucenec and [FK] Zvolen. We have no main player, our success is more a result of good coaching policies in these clubs.
uefa.com: What kind of professions do you and your players have?
Petrák: I was active as a coach for over 30 years, now it is more a matter of passion. Our players have full-time jobs as clerks and manual workers - we don't have any students in our squad.
uefa.com: What would winning the trophy mean to you?
Petrák: For me personally, it would be a top achievment in football despite the amateur status of this competition. Winning the trophy would be Slovakia's very first success of in this category and a proud chapter in our footballing history.