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Dublin: 8 °C Sunday 20 October, 2019

Slovakia: Who are they?

How Slovakia are preparing, their current form, and who Ireland should be wary of – with Slovak expert Daniel Richardson.

Juraj Kucka, Jan Durica, Miroslav Stoch, and Marek Hamsik od Slovakia after the World Cup exit to the Netherlands.
Juraj Kucka, Jan Durica, Miroslav Stoch, and Marek Hamsik od Slovakia after the World Cup exit to the Netherlands.
Image: AP Photo/Martin Meissner

SLOVAKIA ARE A side ostensibly on the up. Their qualification for the World Cup was only leapfrogged in the surprise stakes when they beat Italy to advance to the second round.

But their recent results give a hint of their form – their opening qualifier was a narrow home win over Macedonia, and on Friday they lost out 3-1 to Armenia. Sandwiched in between these two matches was a brilliant 1-0 win away to Russia in the Lokomotiv Stadium in Moscow.

“Slovakia seem to perform better on the bigger stage,” acknowledges Slovakia-based journalist Daniel Richardson. “The players were complaining about the atmosphere in the home games against Croatia and Macedonia recently where only 6000 people bothered to turn up.

“Slovakia are currently an inconsistent team who go from the sublime to the ridiculous (Russia to Armenia). It is at crucial points of the qualification process like this where we will find out the true character of the team.”

Although coach Vladimír Weiss normally favours a forward-looking 4-2-3-1 formation, injuries and suspensions will force him into playing a different tactic for the match against Slovakia. Marek Hamsik of Napoli is the captain and creative fulcrum of the team, and it could well be Hamsik who is pushed forward in a more conventional 4-4-2 formation.

Another star of the team, Miroslav Stoch, has picked up an injury and could miss out on the Ireland match. Miroslav Karhan is one player to watch, says Richardson, as he is one of the form players with Bundesliga table-toppers Mainz.

A problem area for the Slovakians could be the forward line, with Robert Vittek injured and Stanislav Sestak returning from injury. “Stanislav Sestak is probably the most established striker in the squad although he is also returning from injury, any of the other strikers who feature against Ireland will be looking to prove themselves worthy of a starting place in the team,” says Richardson.

The match will be held in the eastern city of Zilina after the Slovak Football Association (SFZ) decided to move the match away from Bratislava. Although it caused the FAI to protest and arrange transportation for fans, Richardson says that the decision was relatively popular in Slovakia.

“Slovaks are happy with the move. The lack of a true national football stadium in Slovakia is a real debacle and… Pasienky [in Bratislava] is very unpopular. MSK Zilina have three players in the squad and the fans in Zilina love the opportunity to watch the national team perform at their stadium. There have been some murmurings of discontent over the distribution of tickets but on the night I am sure the atmosphere will be fantastic.”

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