Stanislav Sestak has spent just short of three seasons in the German Bundesliga with Ruhr Valley outfit VfL Bochum, weighing in with a total of 22 goals and 12 assists in the last two campaigns to help a club of modest means preserve their top-flight status.
This term, Bochum are again fighting for their first division lives, and once again, a huge burden of responsibility has fallen on the Slovakia hitman, whose contribution this time round amounts to six goals and three assists. The 27-year-old is clearly a key figure at Bochum as well as for his country, who have qualified for the FIFA World Cup™ finals for the first time since gaining independence in 1993.
Sestak more than proved his worth to the Slovak national team with six goals in six games on the road to South Africa 2010. The striker and his team-mates have been drawn in Group F at this summer’s tournament, along with world champions Italy, Paraguay and New Zealand.
Sestak spoke to FIFA.com about the global showdown in June and July, his predator’s nose for goal, his role in the national team and Slovakia’s targets at the 2010 finals.
FIFA.com: Stanislav, you have impeccable goal-scoring credentials both in the Bundesliga and for your national team. What does pulling on a Slovakia jersey mean to you personally?
Stanislav Sestak: It’s a massive honour every single time. Slovakia is a very young country, and sporting success is very good for us. As players, we have a real sense of responsibility.
You come from a small country, which has qualified for the FIFA World Cup finals for the first time since independence. What does it mean for the game in Slovakia?
We’re obviously hoping it’ll give us a real boost. Ice hockey has been easily our number one sport up to now. Taking part at the World Cup, and hopefully giving a decent account of ourselves, could well close the gap. Obviously, I’m specially thrilled for our fans. Our good results at home were vital in getting us to the World Cup finals.
You finished top scorer for Slovakia in World Cup qualifying. Does a fact like that matter to you at all?
The priority is our success as a team, and everything else is much less important. That always sounds like you’re trying to be modest, but it’s the truth. Obviously, strikers need to be scoring. Belief in yourself is crucial too, but at the end of the day, your actual strike rate doesn’t matter much.
What’s your role in the national team?
I’m 27, so I rate as one of the more experienced players nowadays. I’m expected to shoulder responsibility, which I’m very happy to do.
Who are the other key personalities for Slovakia?
There are a number of us - Martin Skrtel and Miroslav Karhan for example. Robert Vittek has scored crucial goals for us too.
The FIFA World Cup in South Africa starts in just two months. What are you expecting from the tournament?
I’m really excited to be going to South Africa. It’s supposed to be a fantastic country and I’m really looking forward to forming my own impressions. And it’s always been my dream to play at a World Cup. I’m about to live the dream.
What can Slovakia achieve in a group with Italy, Paraguay and New Zealand?
I’d think first place is already taken. I’m pretty certain the world champions can cope with this group. But we’re contenders for second place. That would be a huge success for Slovakia.
Would you be satisfied with making the Round of 16, or could you go even further?
It always depends on who you play, so let’s wait and see. We want to go as far as we can.
Apart from yourself, Bochum team-mates Antar Yahia (Algeria) and Zlatko Dedic (Slovenia) are likely to feature at the FIFA World Cup. Are you talking to them about the tournament?
There’s plenty of banter on the subject in the dressing room, especially because Antar and Zlatko are in the same group. I’d definitely be delighted if we came up against one of the two in the course of the tournament, because it would mean we’d gone a long way.