For fans of German club Bochum, their Slovakia striker Stanislav Sestak must rank as something of an enigma. Quick, a solid finisher and a team player able to play anywhere across the frontline, Sestak struck six times in eight European Zone qualifiers for his country yet only managed the same tally in 29 league appearances for his club in 2009/10.
"One player doesn't make a team," he told FIFA. "With the national team we all play for each other, we don't have any big stars and we qualified thanks to our team spirit. Clearly that wasn't the case at my club," added Sestak of a Bochum side relegated after finishing second-bottom in the Bundesliga. Slovakia's togetherness and fighting spirit came to the fore in the crucial home qualifying victory over Poland in October 2008. A goal down to a 70th-minute strike from Ebi Smolarek, Sestak popped up to net a decisive double, equalising in the 84th minute and scoring the winner two minutes later.
"We picked up three points that gave our confidence a real boost," he recalled. "We realised that we were capable of beating teams with a big reputation. All the points we collected were crucial, though it's true that turning the scoreline on its head in a matter of seconds against Poland was a launch pad for us."
At club level, Sestak's own breakthrough came at MSK Zilina, where he finally began realising his potential as a goalscorer. Prior to then he had managed just nine goals in 42 league games at Tatran Presov and six in 58 matches at Slovan Bratislava. Once at Zilina there was no stopping him, however, with the player helping his team to league and cup doubles in 2003/04 and 2006/07 and finishing as the league's top scorer in 2005/06.
His tally of 49 goals in 99 league appearances for MSK caught the eye of foreign suitors, with Bochum winning the race for his signature in summer 2007. Charged with replacing prolific Greek striker Theofanis Gekas at the Ruhrstadion, Sestak acquitted himself well with 22 Bundesliga goals and 12 assists over his first two seasons with the modest German outfit.
Yet having narrowly stayed up in 2008/09, Bochum were unable to escape the drop the following campaign. "I'm not the only one who's dropped into the second division, we are all responsible," said Sestak, scorer of the season's fastest goal when he found the net after 39 seconds against Werder Bremen. "But life goes on and if I stay at Bochum I'll give it everything I've got to help them win promotion."
Our next match will be easier, even though Paraguay are more solid opponents. They aren't going to be happy to just sit back.
That could be a big if, however, should Sestak repeat the form here at South Africa 2010 that helped the Repre top Group 3 in European qualifying. "Of course it's a great honour to represent your country at a World Cup and to play against great teams and famous players," said the forward, before touching on the disappointment of conceding a late equaliser in the opening 1-1 draw with Group F rivals New Zealand. "It was our own fault. We should never have let the New Zealand player put the cross in, then we were a bit unlucky once the ball was in the box.
"I think that our next match will be easier, even though Paraguay are more solid opponents. They aren't going to be happy to just sit back, so there'll be more space to work in," added the No9. And with Slovakia due to take on world champions Italy in their final group game, there is no doubt that Sunday's match against La Albirroja in Mangaung/Bloemfontein will be vital to Slovakian hopes of reaching the Round of 16.