WCQ Preview: Slovakia versus Slovenia

Let me apologize now, but I’m going to have to do something that I usually, consciously try to avoid. You see, whereas most of the writing I do makes an explicit assumption that people know what I’m talking about (though implicitly, I’m just respecting the fact that people reading my content are capable of using Google), I have to change my tact when it comes to Slovakia, as I can not remember how many times people have used Slovakia as a reference point for the success of the U.S. Men’s National Team.

I know many consider me a hater when it comes to the USMNT, and rightfully so, as I have been too negative a few times, but those who say that the USMNT is better than either Slovakia merely because they can’t name players from the country doing more harm than good. They’re trying to take a stand against what they feel is unwarranted criticism (or, bad analysis) when they are doing nothing more than displaying head-shakingly-ignorant opinions.

It’s far too common to hear somebody say (paraphrasing) “Who does Slovakia have?

“Do they have a Oguchi Onyewu?”

No, they don’t. But they have a Martin Skrtel. You may know him. He plays for Liverpool. Liverpool FC.

See, here I’m already getting pithy and, quite frankly, rude, but I can’t help it. In my recent experience, people see the name “Slovakia” and become threatened when me (and others) point out that they are not only good, but they may be better than the USMNT. People become threatened by the fact that a team of players they have not heard of (or, in the case of Skrtel, aren’t associated with the names Slovenia and Slovakia) could be better than the U.S. Men’s National Team – a team many maturing States’ soccer fans have become emotionally and (more importantly) intellectually invested in.

So in previewing the Slovakia and Slovenia Saturday match-up – a match between the first and second place teams in UEFA’s Group C – I want to say that there is absolutely not shame in not being as good as Slovakia. U.S. Men’s National Team fans, allow me to give you this excuse: Slovakia is very good. The USMNT can be both a.) worse than Slovakia, and b.) a good team.

“Do they have a Landon Donovan?”

Slovakia (the group leaders, with 19 points) have Marek Hamsik, a 22-year old attacking midfielder who, if he were American, could be the best player this country had ever produced.

Slovenia is not as star studded, but just like the rest of the emerging squads from Eastern Europe – the new hotbed of footballing talent – almost all of their first team contingent of players is 26 or younger and are playing regularly at top level clubs across Europe. Right now, they sit in second place in Group 3 (14 points) and, having a game in hand on third place Northern Ireland (14 points), have the inside track on a playoff spot.

Unfortunately, they will need three points Saturday in Bratislava. Though they defeated Slovakia in Maribor earlier in qualifying, Slovenia will be hard pressed to get three points on the road. Were they to get one point – a result that would also put Slovakia through to South Africa – Slovenia could take solace in having a match with San Marino to close out group play. The only way Slovenia gets four points and does not finish second is if the Czech Republic (fourth, 12 points) wins twice and beats Slovenia on goal differential. With Slovenia having San Marino in the last round (a team that lost 10-0 to fifth place Poland earlier in qualifying) Slovenia will have a chance to run up the score.

If a draw didn’t get Slovakia to South Africa, I’d pick a win for the home team, but given the table …

Prediction: 1-1, draw