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Can Slovakia make up for lost time and have a big impact at Euro 2020?
Can Slovakia make up for lost time and have a big impact at Euro 2020?

Slovakia will be keen to make a big impression as they make only their second appearance at the European Championship since gaining independence in 1993.

They will be looking to build on their Euro 2016 showing, when they progressed from a group containing England, Wales and Russia before losing to Germany in the round of 16.

Impressively, the Slovaks took a point off England and beat Russia to finish just a point behind the Three Lions and two behind the Welsh in an impressive debut.

Background

Slovakia are something of an unknown quantity at this level, having only participated in two major tournaments.

On both occasions they have managed to escape difficult groups. They finished above Italy at the 2010 World Cup, only to be eliminated in the first knockout round.

But having been drawn alongside Spain, Sweden and Poland, they are not one of the favourites to progress beyond Group E at Euro 2020.

How they qualified

Despite accruing just four points fewer than Group E winners Croatia in qualifying, Slovakia missed out on direct qualification by a single point, with Wales pipping them to the runners-up spot.

Slovakia shipped seven goals to Croatia across two matches but conceded just four in their remaining six games. It was those defensive performances that saw them finish a point clear of fourth-placed Hungary.

They beat the Republic of Ireland on penalties in the play-off semi-finals and followed that up with a 2-1 extra-time win over Northern Ireland to book their place at Euro 2020.

The line-up

Parma's Juraj Kucka is set to start in midfield
Parma's Juraj Kucka is set to start in midfield

Slovakia are without the experienced Martin Skrtel after he refused to come out of international retirement for the tournament.

But they do still have Marek Hamsik in their squad. As captain, the 126-cap international, 33, will provide the team with some much-needed experience at the top level.

The Falcons have one of the oldest squads at the Euros but not many are playing that regularly for their clubs these days.

That could be both a blessing and a curse — they will have fresher legs but less game time under their belts.

Predicted line-up: Dubravka; Pekarik, Skriniar, Vavro, Hubocan; Lobotka, Kucka, Haraslin, Hamsik, Mak; Bozenik.

Star man: Milan Skriniar

A key part in Inter Milan’s charge to their first Serie A title in 11 years, Milan Skriniar is once again being linked with big-money moves to some of Europe’s elite clubs.

The 26-year-old is a quintessential modern-day centre-back. 

He is progressive on the ball and brilliant in one-on-one situations, with opposition teams dribbling past him just 0.45 times per 90 minutes in Serie A in 2020-21.

Slovakia are not blessed with goals in their squad, so keeping clean sheets could be their best chance of progressing — and Skriniar will be vital to achieving that aim.

Milan Skriniar will be Slovakia's key man
Milan Skriniar will be Slovakia's key man

Up-and-comer: Robert Bozenik

One of the youngest players in the squad, 21-year-old Robert Bozenik is likely to be tasked with leading the line.

The 6ft 2in forward impressed as a teenager for Zilina before getting a £4million move to Feyenoord. He has not set the league alight yet but is seen as a long-term investment at De Kuip.

Sporting director Frank Arnesen described Bozenik as "a young but big talent who will be given the time to grow and develop".

A big showing at the Euros will only increase his chances of making a more sizeable impact in the Eredivisie next season.

The boss: Stefan Tarkovic

Stefan Tarkovic was assistant to Jan Kozak at Euro 2016 but after a loss to the Czech Republic, Kozak resigned and the former left-back was named as interim manager.

After guiding Slovakia to European Championship qualification, he was given the role on a permanent basis.

The 48-year-old is a conservative manager, preferring to keep things tight and resisting the urge to play pretty football.

He is known for his tactical approach to games and will need all of his innovation if Slovakia are to make it through to the knockout phase.

All information correct as of midday, June 4, 2021

Tags

SlovakiaEuropean Championship

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