{mosimage} 20 June ~ Five minutes after New Zealand’s injury-time equaliser against Slovakia on Tuesday, the discussion forum on Slovak website was probably not the place to go for reasoned analysis. "Paraguay will put five past us in the next game. And don’t mention Italy," read one of the more restrained posts.

Parts of the mainstream media agreed. Moment of shame read the banner headline on the front page of tabloid Novy Cas above a picture of goalkeeper Jan Mucha prostrate in his net. It was left to Sport to attempt some balance. We should have won the main headline read, followed by, in smaller letters, some encouragement: "But all is not lost." Coach Vladimir Weiss’s own post-match reaction tended towards the melodramatic. "A small sporting tragedy," was his description of Winston Reid’s goal. "A disappointment, yes," responded Sport, "but not a tragedy."

Several prominent Slovak coaches from past and present appeared in the media to analyse where things went wrong against New Zealand. Jozef Adamec, a former national team coach, now a kind of footballing elder statesman, echoed a common view by expressing bafflement at Weiss’s late substitutions. Sestak, Vittek and Weiss Junior, by general consent the side’s three best performers on the day, were all removed in the final ten minutes and, in the latter two cases, not replaced by similar types of players.

Milan Lesicky, another wise old man of Slovak football, was among the more upbeat commentators, pointing out that Slovakia’s two greatest results of the Weiss era both came four days after "debacles". The 2-1 qualifying win in Prague over the Czech Republic last April, he recalled, was preceded by a 4-0 thrashing by England at Wembley, while the result which ensured a place in South Africa, a 1-0 victory against Poland in the Chorzow snow, followed a limp 2-0 loss at home to Slovenia. "We can do something similar against Paraguay," was the conclusion.

Weiss and his players have often shown determination to learn from experience. The coach has even openly questioned his own substitutions in the past. He hasn’t done so since New Zealand but it’s safe to assume he’s reflected privately. The players, meanwhile, have often talked about a 2-1 home defeat by Chile last November, in which they were comprehensively outplayed, as providing useful lessons for the meeting with Paraguay. Some have employed a similar phrase, "they wouldn’t lend us the ball", to describe the Chilean display against them. Midfielder Zdeno Strba says of today’s game: "We know we’ll be spending a lot of time without the ball but if we’re disciplined, chances will come."

None of this inspires gung-ho optimism among Slovak fans but that emotion has never been present anyway. The team has, as Lesicky suggests, performed well before in unpromising circumstances. They might lack the quality needed to beat Paraguay but it would be a surprise if they were bad enough to fulfill the nightmares of some of the posters. James Baxter

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