Euro 2016: Slovakia likely to be among the also rans
Nothing to suggest Jan Kozak’s side can make a serious impression on these European Championships
The early qualifying win over Spain suggests this is a side to be reckoned with but Slovakia undid some of the good work after that and conceding two in Luxembourg or losing on home soil to Belarus is not the sort of stuff that would mark them out as dark horses during the weeks to come. Slovakia, indeed, essentially qualified for France on the basis of some strong away performances against their group’s lesser lights and while that ability to perform on the road might be regarded as a positive, the opposition will be a little bit stiffer here. Marek Hamsik is the star of the side and Martin Skrtel’s experience will be important even if Liverpool fans fear the worst. There are a fair few decent players after that but Jan Kozak will do well to fashion them into a unit capable of making any serious impression.
How they qualified
Slovakia found themselves in quite a tough qualifying group which included defending European Champions Spain and Ukraine. However, they got their journey off to a dream start by first beating Ukraine in Kiev before recording a memorable home victory over Spain in their second match. Four more wins had them top of the group with a 100 per cent record and the idea of beating Spain to first place becoming a very real possibility. Those hopes were dashed when Slovakia lost to Vicente del Bosque’s side in Oviedo before drawing 0-0 with Ukraine in Zilina. A disastrous home loss to Belarus in their second last game meant that, despite the lightning start, Slovakia’s fate would still come down to the final day. They managed to scrape over the line of automatic qualification with a 4-2 win over Luxembourg as Spain defeated Ukraine.
Manager: Jan Kozak
The 62-year-old, who won 55 caps for Czechoslovakia, enjoyed his most successful time in management during four spells in charge of Slovak side Kosice. After winning two league titles with the club, as well as leading them to the Champions League group stages in 1998, Kozak was appointed national team manager in 2013. From there he has led the team to what will be their first ever European Championships.
Star man: Marek Hamsik
After captaining Slovakia during their first ever major tournament experience at the 2010 World Cup, Hamsik remains a key part of Jan Kozak’s side as they gear up for their first ever European Championships. After leaving Brescia to join Napoli, Hamsik became one of Europe’s hottest young prospects as he helped his team to Champions League qualification and two Coppa Italia titles. The 28-year-old netted five times on the way to France as his side finished second behind Spain in Group C.
One to watch: Vladimir Weiss
Now 26, the winger has enjoyed quite a colourful career which has brought him from Manchester to Glasgow and then Qatar. After bursting onto the scene at Manchester City he quickly faded and was shipped off on loan spells to Bolton, then Rangers and finally Espanyol. Stints at Pescara and Olympiakos followed before a move to the Qatar Stars League where he currently plies his trade with Al-Gharafa. While his club career may not have scaled the heights expected, there is no doubting the winger’s talent. That talent is perhaps best shown in his incredible solo goal for Olympiakos against PSG during the 2013 Champions League group stages.
Goalkeepers: Matus Kozacik (Viktoria Pilsen), Jan Mucha (Slovan Bratislava), Jan Novota (Rapid Vienna)
Defenders: Jan Durica (Lokomotiv Moscow), Norbert Gyoember (Roma), Tomas Hubocan (Dynamo Moscow), Peter Pekarik (Hertha Berlin), Kornel Salanta (Slovan Bratislava), Milan Skriniar (Sampdoria), Martin Skrtel (Liverpool),
Midfielders: Ondrej Duda (Legia Warsaw), Jan Gregus (Jablonec), Marek Hamsik (Napoli), Patrik Hrosovsky (Viktoria Pilsen), Juraj Kucka (AC Milan), Robert Mak (PAOK), Viktor Pecovsky (MSK Zilina), Miroslav Stoch (Bursaspor), Dusan Svento (Cologne), Vladimir Weiss (Al Gharafa).
Forwards: Michal Duris (Viktoria Pilsen), Adam Nemec (Willem II), Stanislav Sestak (Ferencvaros).
What President Trump says...
“I love the Slovakians. Their Prime Minister banned Muslims and he’s going to build a wall to keep them out. He’s the Trump of Europe! I love that guy!”