Craggy and grey, like Sam Allardyce crossed with Peter Reid, Dusan Galis stared hard at the reporter who had put him on the spot. Having beaten Wales 5-1 and Cyprus 6-1, who did Slovakia's coach feel would have the edge on Wednesday? "With or without Ryan Giggs?" he asked. "Without." "Then," he sighed, "it will be difficult."
That was before Cyprus, who beat Wales more emphatically than a 1-0 score implies in a friendly last November, rattled in five against the Republic of Ireland. Given Wales' heaviest home defeat since England's 7-1 win at Wrexham in 1908, the Cypriot spree raises the prospect of a third consecutive loss for John Toshack's team in Group D.
Where that would leave the manager's tenure is a moot point. Just as goals change games, so results alter perceptions. Any repeat of Saturday's surrender will intensify the pressure on Toshack and could lend a bitter irony to his talk of long-term strategy, let alone the "picture" he envisages at its conclusion, namely qualification for a major tournament.
Craig Bellamy, the stand-in captain, warned beforehand that "a long 18 months" loomed if Wales failed to exploit back-to-back home fixtures. It is already upon them. The inquest raised the names of John Hartson, Gary Speed and Robbie Savage, but only Hartson has confirmed a readiness to rescind his international retirement, and questions hang over his fitness. With Giggs' recovery from injury slowed by illness, another young side will face Cyprus.
While Toshack commendably declined to labour his team's inexperience - his best player was Gareth Bale, 17, who briefly raised Welsh hopes with a sumptuous free-kick goal - he offered a context for the calamity. "We took over a side that had gone 10 competitive games without a win," he said. "Eleven players have retired and we've lost five injured since Teplice [where Wales lost 2-1 to the Czech Republic last month]. These are facts, not excuses, but it doesn't mean we should have made the mistakes we did."
The most conspicuous were perpetrated by his senior professional, Paul Jones. The 39-year-old goalkeeper, a Welsh dragon shaved into his scalp to mark his 50th cap, miscued a clearance that gifted Slovakia their second goal and looked short of agility on the next two. Lewis Price, 22, stands by, but with so many raw players, Toshack must ponder carefully the merits of making a change.
He will certainly look to the more seasoned members of his squad to raise their game. "We still have players here who are not young lads and who could have done better," he said.
Robert Earnshaw was substituted at half-time, which seemed harsh. "I didn't see an end product there," the manager said. Bellamy never stopped darting into spaces, but after Wales' bright start gave way to a flurry of Slovakian counter-attacks, orchestrated by Dusan Svento and Robert Vittek, the Liverpool striker became noticeably frustrated.
Toshack's task now is to restore morale and organisation. "Pats on the back soften up champions. Punches on the jaw don't," he said. "I've already delivered one or two upper cuts." With his captain due in court on an assault charge this week, the imagery may not have been the most judicious, yet his parting shot highlighted a lighter component to the former Real Madrid coach's approach.
Did he realise this was Wales' worst home result in 98 years? "I didn't," Toshack said, "but I've been breaking records all my life, so that's another one."
Goals: Svento (14) 0-1; Mintal (32) 0-2; Bale (37) 1-2; Mintal (38) 1-3; Karhan (51) 1-4; Vittek (59) 1-5.
Wales (3-5-2): Jones (QPR); Edwards (Wolves), Gabbidon (West Ham), Nyatanga (Derby); Duffy (Portsmouth), S Davies (Everton), Robinson (Norwich), Koumas (West Bromwich), Bale (Southampton); Bellamy (Liverpool), Earnshaw (Norwich). Substitutes used: Parry (Cardiff) for Earnshaw, h-t; Ledley (Cardiff) for Edwards, 58; Cotterill (Wigan) for Davies, 88.
Slovakia (4-1-4-1): Contofalsky (Zenit Petrograd); P Petras (Saturn Ramenskoje), Kratochvil (Denizlispor), Varga (Sunderland), Durica (Saturn Ramenskoje); M Petras (Lecce); Karhan (VfL Wolfsburg), Mintal (Nuremberg), Kozak (Artmedia Bratislava), Svento (Slavia Prague); Vittek (Nuremberg). Substitutes used: Krajcik (Slavia Prague) for Karhan, 67; Hodur (Slovan Liberec) for Mintal, 71; Holosko (Manisaspor) for Vittek, 77.
Referee: D van Egmond (Netherlands).
Booked: Wales Koumas.
Man of the match: Svento.
Attendance: 28,493.Reuse content