The Welsh dragon was not so much slain as dissected and hung out to dry at the Millennium Stadium yesterday by a Slovakian team whose composure and skill was elevated to superstar level by the inadequacies of the home defence. The 50th appearance of Paul Jones in goal became a nightmare as Wales slumped to their heaviest home defeat for 98 years(1-7 v England 1908). The boos aimed in their direction at half-time and again at the close were deserved. On this form, any hope of qualification from Group D for Euro 2008 can be dismissed laughably early.
The pre-match insistence of their manager, John Toshack, that Wales urgently needed to win both this and Wednesday's other home game, with Cyprus, only served to pile more pressure on his players, something it was quickly evident they could do without as Slovakia combined with smooth and confident efficiency after repelling a flurry of early Welsh attacks.
Aerial stuff was of no benefit to Wales with the strike force of new captain Craig Bellamy and Robert Earnshaw overshadowed by hulking Slovak defenders. The FC Nuremberg man Robert Vittek offered indication of the looming problems for Wales when, with seven minutes gone, he surged past three red shirts before being crowded out.
Vittek's next contribution was a deadly one. Slipped through on the right by Martin Petras, he went past Lewin Nyatanga before crossing precisely for Dusan Svento to thump a simple goal. The pedestrian home defence, missing the injured James Collins, struggled to contain an opposition mightily boosted by the fact that their very first shot had counted.
Just past the half-hour mark, the first of Jones's nightmare moments saw Slovakia go two up. The keeper attempted a clearance which he sent straight to Marek Mintal, who cut inside Richard Duffy before curling a marvellous shot over the frantically back-pedalling Jones from more than 20 yards. At this stage, there was still a discernible heartbeat about Wales, and the crowd were briefly stirred when, six minutes later, they won a free-kick just outside the penalty box. With the Slovak defence expecting Bellamy to take it, Southampton's 17-year-old dead-ball specialist Gareth Bale curled a left-footer high to the left of Kamil Contofalsky.
Within a couple of minutes, Slovakia restored their two-goal edge, as Mintal showed he is equally adept at low shots, ripping one from a long way outside the box past what seemed a belated dive by Jones.
Another Wales free-kick, this time taken by Jason Koumas, landed on the roof of the net before Bellamy, released on the left by Koumas's smart reverse pass, missed the far post with his drive. Though the Cardiff winger Paul Parry replaced the ineffective Earnshaw for the second half, Wales had no time to reap any benefit before Slovakia scored again. It was the sort of goal which would deeply embar-rass the poorest of defences. Spotting Miroslav Karhan loitering near the corner of the penalty zone, Jan Kozak rolled a corner kick along the ground and, before startled Wales could react, Karhan celebrated his 82nd appearance for his country by beating Jones at his far post with another high, curling strike.
The fifth goal, arriving on the hour, was the pick of the bunch for execution. Mintal released a brilliant ball inside Duffy for Petras to take to the byline before crossing to the unmarked Vittek, who gratefully walloped the ball in.
The Slovaks then eased up, bringing on a trio of substitutes and having nothing more serious to fear than a couple of Bellamy shots blocked by Contofalsky. At the other end, poor Jones was the recipient of ironic cheers every time he touched the ball without having to pick it out of the net.
As Toshack pointed out: "He knows he could have done better, as do some of the others. After the fourth goal went in, it was a long, long time on the touchline, and for the players as well. They ended up running round like [headless] chickens. It was a pretty sorry sight." Was this, then, his worst day as a manager? "No, no," said Toshack. "I've been sacked twice by Real Madrid."
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