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Monday, 11 February, 2002, 19:13 GMT

Slovakia slip up

BBC Sport ice hockey commentator Bob Ballard bids an early farewell to the Slovakians in Salt Lake City

Bye bye Slovakia.

Not something I thought I would be saying this early on, but the favourites to progress from Group A badly under-performed in their opening game, losing 3-0 to Germany.

Although they found some form in a 6-6 tie against Latvia, throwing away a three-goal lead cost them dearly.

So the NHL stars waiting to come to Salt Lake City can unpack their bags safe in the knowledge they can spend the next fortnight washing the car and watching the latest action from the Games on television.

Germany's 3-2 win over Austria, whilst not entirely convincing, was enough to keep them in the box seat.

Provided they do not slip up against Latvia on Tuesday, it will be Hans Zachs' team who will progress and not that of Jan Filc.

Achilles heel

I don't want to sound wise after the event but the Slovaks' Achilles heel always appeared to be their net-minding.

Pavol Rybar was pulled in their match with the Latvians, but Jan Lasek of the Nashville Predators fared no better, and neither was afforded much protection by the defence.

Also, the inclusion of LA Kings forward Ziggy Palffy in Saturday's 3-0 defeat by Germany resulted in his home club refusing permission for Palffy to play against Latvia, and that was a great loss to a desperate cause.

The prospect of a Slovakia/Czech Republic quarter-final has evaporated and for the second Olympics running, the young nation has punched below its weight.

Looking ahead, the Germany-Latvia showdown should be captivating viewing and we can already safely say this has been the best start to an Olympic ice hockey tournament in living memory.

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