While Brazil have rediscovered humility in the wake of their final group match defeat by Australia, their Slovak opponents, second in Group A, head into their Round of Sixteen clash with confidence sky-high. Twin brothers Peter and Marek Kostolani, the side’s goalkeeper and right back respectively, are itching to show the formidable Samba boys a few moves of their own.
In the lobby of a Sharjah hotel, two young men lean on a balustrade as they capture on their camcorder the waterfall cascading from first floor to ground. Emblazoned across their shirts, the word “Slovakia” provides a clue to their identities, and when they eventually turn around, it is like seeing double. The Kostolani twins are indulging in a spot of tourism.
Peter is a goalkeeper and Marek a right-sided defender. Both are members of the Slovakia youth side drawn against Brazil at the tournament’s last sixteen stage. That is a prospect that enthrals them - and then some. “We can’t wait to take on the great Brazil,” reveals Peter.
Far from being false bravado, their apparent eagerness is reinforced by sound reasoning. Peter, the more talkative of the pair, does not mince his words on the subject of Brazil’s performances so far in the competition, whilst at the same time admitting to a healthy respect for the Seleçao. “They’re a massive name, but far from being invincible at the moment. We have been monitoring their performances during the championship, which have been anything but convincing. If we can stay focused for the whole 90 minutes, they are there for the taking,” he asserts.
Naturally more cautious, Marek is quick to curb any excessive enthusiasm on his brother’s part by reminding him just whom they are talking about. “We know that the Brazilian players are very skilful and play week in week out in their country’s top division. We’ve seen two of their three matches here and also watched them on video, so we have done our homework well.”
The benefit of surprise
The boys’ knowledge of the team they will be facing is patchy at best, as this question posed by Peter reveals: “Robinho, he’s quite good, isn’t he?” Just a bit, but he is not taking part in the FIFA World Youth Championship. Cue a timely interjection from one of Peter Polak’s assistants to help out the Kostolanis: “We will be paying particularly close attention to Daniel, Daniel Carvalho and Nilmar.”
While they clearly possess confidence in abundance, the siblings know that beating Brazil would be a tremendous accomplishment. “All footballers dream of winning trophies, but if we can get a victory over Brazil, that would be an achievement in itself!”, Peter contemplates. “Brazil are the favourites, but we can take advantage of the element of surprise. It would be one hell of a shock,” Marek adds. The defender also acknowledges that the experience as a whole has been hugely beneficial to the team. “It’s superb just being here, and an undeniable plus for our future. Slovakia is a small country and this is the first time we’ve been involved in an event like this, so the main aim is to learn as much as possible for the future.”
Futures that the twins do not necessarily see as inextricably linked to one another. They no longer play together at club level any more, with Peter keeping goal for Druzstevnik Bac while Marek defends the colours of Nitra. “We help and support each other, both on the pitch and off it. We like playing together, but we also have ambitions to play for big clubs. If one of us gets that opportunity, we won’t let it slip through our fingers, even if it means going our separate ways,” confesses Marek, who imagines turning out for AC Milan one day, while his brother dreams of donning the black and white of Juventus.
But for now, family ties are very much to the fore. Their father, himself a former top-level footballer in the former Czechoslovakia and apparently like their ‘triplet’, even came to the Emirates to watch their first group matches. “We were able to give him a big hug after the game, I think he was quite proud of us,” Marek declares modestly. Just imagine how elated he will be if his twin sons help to see off Brazil!