For so long in the shadow of their former countrymen, Slovakia finally exorcized some football demons by beating out the Czech Republic in Europe’s Group 1 to qualify for the World Cup. In fact, the group was quite tricky considering it was full of other quality sides such as Slovenia and Poland. Slovakia however went about their business and despite a slip-up here and there against Slovenia mainly, qualification to South Africa finally came against Poland on the final matchday. This will be the country’s first ever international tournament since becoming an independent nation and while the pressure might be on, this is a talented side who have the makings of a classic tournament sleeper. In Group F with Italy, Paraguay, and New Zealand, the team have the ability to challenge for a place in the Round of 16.
TALE OF THE TAPE
FIFA Ranking: 38
World Cup Appearances: 0
World Cup Record (W-D-L): 0-0-0
Best World Cup Finish: N/A
Road To South Africa: Qualified as 1st-placed team in Europe’s Group 3
There should be a good enthusiasm about this side in their first ever World Cup as an independent nation. Talent abounds in every area of the pitch and there is a real belief in the squad and from supporters that a place in the knockout rounds is there for the taking. This could be a real breakout tournament for some of this team’s young stars. The team spirit in this team can’t be underestimated as Vladimir Weiss has instilled a real unity amongst the players.
While youthful exuberance is valued, it will be interesting to see how Slovakia’s young guns cope with the pressure of the World Cup. The fear remains that this is one tournament too early for this talented bunch. This is an inexperienced team for a tournament of this magnitude and perhaps of greater worry is that the squad is quite thin and any injuries could pose major problems.
Slovakian boss Vladimir Weiss was widely lauded for achieving World Cup qualification. Now the question is whether his team can make an impact at this World Cup. Weiss hails from a football family with his father representing Czechoslovakia, he himself turning out for the Czechs at the 1990 World Cup, and his son Vladimir one of the rising stars of the current Slovakian side. Weiss achieved great success with Artmedia Petrzalka winning the Slovakian League on two occasions and famously leading the team to the Champions’ League Group Stage for the first time. He struggled in a spell in Russia with FC Saturn Moscow, but has recovered tremendously as Slovakian national team boss.
The Key Men
Most of Slovakia’s play runs through Napoli midfielder Marek Hamsik. The 22-year-old playmaker has been likened to Pavel Nedved and Hamsik can stand up to that comparison having evolved into a world-class midfielder. Hamsik is Slovakia’s best player and the team’s key to success this summer. A good tournament could see the midfield maestro move to one of Europe’s biggest clubs.
While Hamsik pulls the strings in the center of the pitch for Slovakia, Martin Skrtel is the rock at the back that the team relies on. The Liverpool man may have some inconsistencies in his game when playing at Anfield, however his form for his country has been nothing short of superb.
A whole bevy of youngsters could give this side what it takes to get to the second round. From Hamsik’s creative genius to the wing play of youngsters such as the boss’ son Vladimir Weiss and Miroslav Stoch of Manchester City and Chelsea, respectively there is a feeling that these boys are a bit special and take Group F by storm.
The Key Match
As long as New Zealand are dispatched as expected in the opener, the second match against Paraguay on June 20th should be the one who decides which team goes through as second place in the group, assuming Italy don’t stutter as usual in the early rounds.
Why You Should Watch Them
Promising youth combined with a decent defense and coach who has molded a side who believe in their abilities, check out Slovakia because they could yet be the surprise team of the tournament.
Guest Panelist: Maura Gladys, ESPN Soccernet Slovakia Correspondent
Maura told One Game, One World:
“Slovakia has a very real shot at advancing into the knockout round in South Africa. Almost everyone has conceded the top spot in Group F to Italy, but Paraguay and Slovakia will battle for the second slot. Although Paraguay is very skilled and dangerous, I believe that Slovakia has enough young talent and strong veterans to defeat La Albirroja. Marek Hamsik and Stanislav Sestak provide offense while Liverpool’s Martin Skrtel is a towering presence in the back.
But no matter what happens in Group F, the 2010 World Cup is a big moment for Slovakia. It is it’s first major international tournament as an independent nation. Excitement is building to see how it will fare and a few wins could mean a lot for the country. More of Slovakia’s players are finding success in Europe and domestic football is on the rise. It’s a great time to be a Slovakian football fan!”
One Game, One World Final Say
All signs point to a potentially great tournament for Slovakia. As we mentioned before, a victory over New Zealand would set the tone for what would amount to a final against Paraguay in their second match. If that scenario arises will the inexperienced Slovaks be able to overcome the vastly experienced Paraguayans? That perhaps is all that separates Weiss and his side from having a tournament to remember. They may not be world-beaters, however this is a team that could make some noise if things go their way.
Can Slovakia advance from Group F? Send us your thoughts and views by commenting on this article.