FC Artmedia Bratislava took 107 years to win their domestic title and are now facing Celtic FC.
By Stanislav Hlaváček
It took Celtic FC just five years to win their national title after forming in 1888 but their opponents in Wednesday's UEFA Champions League second qualifying round, FC Artmedia Bratislava, waited more than a century for their first taste of domestic glory.
Founded ten years later than Celtic in 1898, by which time the Glasgow club were already forging their way to a fourth Scottish title, the Bratislava outfit ended a 107-year wait for league success when they topped the Slovakian Superleague earlier this year, following on from their Slovakian Cup triumph in 2004, to set up this Champions League campaign.
For many decades a mediocre team in regional leagues, Artmedia (at the time operating under the name ZTS Petržalka, representing the great residential quarter of the capital) twice gained promotion to the Czechoslovakian top flight in the 1980s. Their policy of utilising unwanted players from the reserve ranks of dominant rivals SK Slovan Bratislava paying dividends, but never leading to an extended stay in the big league.
The break-up of Czechoslovakia in 1993 brought the formation of the Slovakian Superleague, to which Artmedia worked their way up in 1996. Since then, they have been ever-present in the top flight, crowing a string of improving finishes with first place last season. The goalscoring hero was Slovakian Under-21 international Filip Šebo, who hit 18 in the campaign but has since been sold to FK Austria Wien.
Despite making their Champions League debut with a thrilling 4-3 aggregate victory after extra-time against FC Kairat Almaty in the first qualifying round, Artmedia have played on the European stage before, having tested their mettle against F91 Dudelange, FC Girondins de Bordeaux and FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk in the UEFA Cup in recent years.
A capacity crowd is expected for the visit of 1967 European Champion Clubs' Cup winners Celtic at Slovan's 30,000-capacity stadium on Wednesday, although only the most optimistic of Artmedia supporters is expecting a home victory. Vladimír Weiss, the club's 41-year-old coach, has assembled a determined, experienced side but they are lacking anyone with international pedigree in their ranks.
Joining a squad boasting ten players with more than 100 Slovakian Superleague appearances to their names, striker Juraj Halenár has arrived at the club having scored 12 goals for city rivals AŠK Inter Bratislava last season. Should he prove as prolific as Šebo, supporters could see domestic slow starters Artmedia perform miracles in Europe, too.