Slovakia turned a lot of heads at the 2010 World Cup in Brazil when they upset reigning champions Italy in the group stage and qualified for the round of 16. They couldn’t follow up on that success, failing to qualify for Euro 2012 and last year’s World Cup. But the Slovakians are back now, having qualified for their first European Championship, and look a decent threat to get out of the group stage in France this summer.
Goalkeepers: Matus Kozacik (Viktoria Plzen), Jan Mucha (Slovan Bratislava), Jan Novota (Rapid Vienna).
Defenders: Peter Pekarik (Hertha Berlin), Milan Skriniar (Sampdoria), Martin Skrtel (Liverpool), Norbert Gyomber (Roma), Jan Durica (Lokomotiv Moscow), Kornel Salata (Slovan Bratislava), Tomas Hubocan (Dynamo Moscow), Dusan Svento (Cologne).
Midfielders: Viktor Pecovsky (Zilina), Robert Mak (PAOK Thessaloniki), Juraj Kucka (AC Milan), Patrik Hrosovsky (Viktoria Plzen), Jan Gregus (Jablonec), Marek Hamsik (Napoli), Ondrej Duda (Legia Warsaw), Miroslav Stoch (Bursaspor), Vladimir Weiss (Al Gharafa).
Forwards: Michal Duris (Viktoria Plzen), Adam Nemec (Willem II), Stanislav Sestak (Ferencvaros).
A former midfielder who played for Czechoslovakia at Euro ’80 and the 1982 World Cup, Jan Kozak managed a number of Slovak clubs before taking over the national team midway through the qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup. He couldn’t turn things around to help Slovakia qualify, but he did lead his country through a solid campaign, that included a win that ending Spain’s eight-year undefeated run in qualifying games, to book their spot in France this summer.
4-2-3-1: (GK) Kozacik – (D) Hubocan, Durica, Skrtel, Pekarik – (M) Kucka, Pecovsky – (M) Weiss, Hamsik, Mak – (F) Nemec
MORE ON EURO 2016: Sportsnet has you covered with in-depth coverage of Euro 2016 in France, which runs from June 10 to July 10.
GROUP B SCHEDULE
June 11: vs. Wales in Bordeaux
June 15: vs. Russia in Lille
June 20 vs. England in Saint-Etienne
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
Slovakia came through a challenging qualifying campaign, outlasting and beating Ukraine by three points to finish second in their group (behind Spain). Taking four out of a possible six points against Ukraine was the difference between finishing second or third for the Slovakians, who won their first six games before losing to Spain (who they beat earlier in the round).
Slovakia boasts a solid and reliable defence with decades of experience between them, and they play in front of goalkeeper in Matus Kozacik who isn’t prone to making silly gaffes. The midfield is varied and skilled (Marek Hamsik stands out the most), with players offering various skill sets, and there’s genuine speed down the flanks, especially with Robert Mak.
Slovakia doesn’t have a dangerous goal-scorer up front, relying on the hardworking, but hardly prolific, Adam Nemic to lead the line. Aside from Hamsik there are no genuine game-breakers on this team, nor is there a young talent who can make a big impact from off the bench.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Marek Hamsik: Slovakia’s star player, the Napoli man is a box-to-box midfielder who is known for his tireless efforts on the pitch, his high-energy game, and his ability to inspire the attack. He was Slovakia’s top scorer during the qualifiers with five goals.
Juraj Kucka: A key midfield cog for Slovakia, he acts as the side’s pivot in central midfield. He’s equally adept at breaking up plays with timely tackles as he is launching counter-attacks with his tidy passes.
Jan Durica: A resilient and tough central defender who quarterbacked a solid defence that recorded four clean sheets in the qualifiers. He’s been a mainstay of the national team since 2004.
Will their lack of a prolific forward hurt them? Starting striker Adam Nemec only scored three times in the qualifiers, and the majority of the team’s 17 goals came from either defenders or midfielders. Nemec is a hard worker, but he doesn’t exactly have a reputation for unlocking defences and scoring goals out of nothing.
PROSPECTS IN FRANCE
England and Wales are garnering the majority of the attention in this group, but this is a very solid and talented Slovakian side that should not be discounted—just ask Italy from 2010. Hamsik is at the peak of his career, and has the ability to inspire his country to great things in France. Getting out of the group shouldn’t be a problem, and don’t be surprised if they go on a bit of a run in the knockout stages.
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