‘There is lightning over the Tatra Mountains’ runs the opening line of Slovakia’s national anthem; the subtle, almost clandestine way in which a storm approaches marred against its destructive nature once it occurs, is perhaps reflective of the way in which Slovakia qualified for their first ever European Championship.
Deposited in a group with serial winners Spain, and a steely Ukraine side, none expected Slovakia to kick-off their campaign with six straight victories. It was this staggering form that would, ultimately, ensure their qualification. A run that included ending Spain’s 36 game unbeaten streak in European competitions saw the Slovakian national side as front-runners for the automatic spots.
Emerging from the quiet and taking the group by force, Slovakia became physical manifestations of their national anthem.
However, lightning does not strike twice, as Slovakia fell 2-0 away to Spain. This defeat that would start a spell of one win in four, with Jan Kozak’s side eventually limping over the line with a 4-2 victory away at 146th placed side Luxemburg: a game in which Slovakia were uncharacteristically sloppy in defence.
Defensive solidity was the back-bone of Slovakia’s campaign, conceding just eight goals in ten matches. Aided by Liverpool’s Martin Skrtel, Kozak’s implementation of a disciplined foundation became the spring-board for Slovakian success.
Kozak sets up his team to play in a reserved manner, averaging 46% possession. Slovakia seek to sit-off teams, soaking up the pressure and hit them with pace on the counter-attack. Indeed, this season’s Premier League has been witness to such dangers.
AC Milan’s Juraj Kucka is responsible for initiating attack from defence, and will look to exploit his deep-lying position at the base of the midfield by pulling the strings for his more attackingly minded team-mates. The central-defensive midfielder first instinct is to thread a ball into the path of Hamsik or Robbie Mak, who are both blessed with pace. Marek Hamsik, of course, is a figure familiar to many: versatile and creative, he will be the focal point of any Slovakian move going forward. However, Mak is an unfamiliar face. The left-footed winger was a product of Manchester City youth academy, but failed to make the grade, and now plays his trade for PAOK in the Greek Super League. The potential inter-play between Hamsik and Mak necessitates addressing and tactical intrusion– Hamsik was Slovakia’s top scorer during qualification, with six goals.
The Slovakian national team is an eclectic mix of renowned players and those who play in their native league, but Kozak has blended this diverse range of talent into a mixture that has the capability of upsetting the odds, and should not be taken lightly.
Will allow opposition to dictate the game, leaving themselves vulnerable to being carved open.
Defence-to-attack; quick in the turnover, they utilise any opportunity to counter attack through Hamsik and Mak.
Talisman Hamsik will look to build upon his impressive goal scoring tally in qualification and can be a nuisance for opposition defenders.
Player’s Comments – Peter Pekarik, in an interview with FourFourTwo
“Our group is really very difficult”
“Our dream is to fight and earn second place in group”
Head-to-heads with Wales
Oct. 2006. Wales 1 – 5 Slovakia – a very depressing day for anyone who attended that match…
Sep. 2007. Slovakia 2 – 5 Wales.
The two meetings between the teams have produced 13 goals, should we expect a high-scoring match in France?