A game against the World Champions Germany presents a daunting prospect for any team but rather than fearing that, Slovakia are ready to embrace the challenge in an attempt to prolong their Euro 2016 campaign.
After losing their opening game 2-1 against Wales, Jan Kozak’s side greatly improved their form to beat Russia by the same score line, before drawing 0-0 with England, to progress to the last 16 by virtue of being the best 3rd place team.
There was much to admire about the manner in which Slovakia performed during the group stage, particularly in terms of the defensive solidarity they showed against England to secure the point they required to reach the knock-out stages.
Whilst Slovakia’s experienced back four of Jan Durica, Tomas Hubocan, Peter Pekarik, Martin Skrtel, who have over 250 international caps between them were vital in resisting England’s best efforts to score, Jan Kozak’s side defended brilliantly as a team and should they do so again, will pose a formidable barrier for Germany to break down.
That barrier is reinforced by the extremely reliable holding midfield duo of Viktor Pecovsky & Juraj Kucka, who as well as shielding the team’s stable back four, also provide an excellent springboard from which Slovakia launch attacks. Spearheading those attacks is the team’s captain Marek Hamsik, who is widely regarded as one of the best box – to – box midfielders in Europe, a reputation which he strengthened with his all action displays during the group stages.
Despite being well marshalled by England’s Jordan Henderson in the team’s goalless draw, Hamsik produced a man of the match performance in Slovakia’s 2-1 win over Russia, when he scored one goal and set-up the other for Vladimir Weiss.
After receiving a precise pass from Hamsik, Weiss who plays for Qatari side Al Gharafa, effortlessly drifted past two Russian defenders before slotting the ball home to become the first player from a non-European club to score a goal in the European Championship. Whilst Weiss works tirelessly up and down the left wing for Slovakia, on the opposite side of the pitch, Robert Mak does a similarly effective job. Both players, who played together as teenagers in Manchester City’s Youth Academy, use their pace to protect the team’s full back’s and torment opposition defenders.
As such Slovakia’s well balanced attacking midfield trio work cohesively to support the team’s lone striker, a role which Adam Nemec had assumed from the country’s record goal-scorer Robert Vittek at the start of the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign. During that, Nemec scored three goals but despite that the Willem II striker has struggled for form at Euro 2016 and lost his place in the starting XI to Ondrej Duda, who scored in Slovakia’s 2-1 defeat to Wales. The Legia Warsaw attacking midfielder’s enthusiasm and effervescence make him a handful for opposition defences.
Although aside from Hamsik, Slovakia have no outstanding individual players, Jan Kozak’s side are a well drilled team with an excellent spirit. That was evident when they beat Germany 3-1 in a pre-finals friendly, with their strong performance in that prompting the World Champions manager Joachim Low‘s to give the following assessment of Slovakia prior to the team‘s last 16 encounter.
“They control the space well, are very strong in challenges and they can break with three or four quick players. They will challenge us, since they work defensively very well, we will not get many chances,” said Low, who will be without captain Bastien Schweinsteiger and has concerns over the fitness of Jerome Boateng. Otherwise the 56-year-old manager has a fully fit squad to choose from but the same cannot be said for his counterpart Kozak.
Tomas Hubocan, Dusan Vento and Robert Mark have all been ruled out the game. Nevertheless there are still 9 players (Jan Mucha, Martin Skrtel, Jan Durica, Peter Pekarik, Juraj Kuka, Marik Hamsek, Stanislav Stestak, Miroslav Stoch and Robert Vittek) in Slovakia’s squad who played in the 2010 World Cup.
As such given that experience, combined with their recent win over Germany and strong showing during the group stages, Slovakia will pose a tough test of Joachim Low’s side’s European Championship winning credentials.