Amid all the high profile matches in this week’s Champions and Europa League encounters, there was one game in Group I of the latter competition which was both symbolic in terms of the occasion and which also completed another chapter in a fairly disastrous set of European fixtures for the beaten team. The meeting between Sparta Prague and Slovan Bratislava was the first such contest between the two football clubs in the Czech Republic capital city since Slovakia became an independent state in 1993, when Czechoslovakia ceased to exist. However, the team from Bratislava will not wish to remember the football match for any great length of time.
Sparta Prague won 4-0 on the evening and that was after registering a 3-0 victory in the reverse fixture. Sparta are now second top of the group but on equal points with Napoli whom they host at the end of November in the fifth round of matches.
In the case of Slovan Bratislava, they have the distinction of being the only team in the group phase of both European competitions without a point and a goal from four games having already conceded 14 goals to date with a visit to Napoli looming on the horizon. For a club which won the1968-69 European Cup Winners Cup by beating Barcelona 3-2 in the final, the current Europa League campaign marks a very sad demise.
Yet a glance at their domestic league demonstrates a world several degrees apart from the Premier League, Bundesliga, Serie A and La Liga. Whereas attendances of 30,000+ are the norm in the English and German top tiers, Slovan managed to attract 951 spectators to Stadion Pasienky for their latest home match in the Slovak (Fortuna) Super Liga when they beat Kosice 3-0.
Slovan have been domestic champions for the past two seasons and have been the leading Slovakian club since independence but a relatively poor start to the current campaign has resulted in them occupying fourth place, but with three games in hand, behind leaders MSK Zilina. There is a 12 point gap between the two teams but six defeats in their latest ten matches does not inspire confidence in the ability of Slovan to breach the difference.
With official home attendances hovering around the 1,000 mark, it is little surprise that Slovan Bratislava now represent one of several teams which just make up the numbers in European competition but the promise of a financial payday can arise when the likes of Napoli visit the capital city. Although Slovan lost 2-0 that evening, over 10,000 people witnessed the Europa League tie which was close to capacity for the multi-purpose stadium.
Slovan Bratislava may yet acquire the distinction of no points and no goals from all six group games but such statistics do disguise fundamental disparities between the teams contesting these European groups.