Having caused a stir when they reached the last-16 of their first ever Euro tournament five years ago, Slovakia is back and hoping to raise eyebrows once again this summer. Head coach Stefan Tarkovic has the unenviable task to navigating his side through Spain, Sweden and Poland in the Slovakia Euro group – but the team will certainly take heart from their previous exploits in this competition.
Back in 2016 Slovakia advanced to the last-16 after beating Russia and earning a crucial 0-0 draw with England in the group stage. While they were subsequently knocked out by Germany in Lille, the competition marked Slovakia’s first foray on the European international stage since the break-up of Czechoslovakia, who won the Euros in 1976 and twice reached the semi-finals.
Slovakia reached the 2020 tournament via the Nations League playoffs. They finished third in qualifying Group E behind Croatia and Wales, and crucially one point ahead of Hungary. Robert Bozenik and Marek Hamsik finished as top scorers for Slovakia in their group with just three goals apiece. Despite failure to secure automatic qualification, they progressed to the Euros via the playoffs after beating Republic of Ireland on penalties in their semi-final and Northern Ireland 2-1 in extra time in the final.
Tarkovic tends to deploy a 4-1-4-1 system but also sets his team out in a 4-2-3-1 when he senses victory is possible. This he did to great success in a recent 2-1 result over Russia in World Cup qualifying, where forward Robert Mak played off the main striker and bagged the winning goal. FC Koln’s Ondrej Duda is the man who makes the team tick in attacking midfield, while Jan Gregus, Marek Hamsik and Juraj Kucka provide plenty of experience across the middle of the park.
Slovakia isn’t equipped with the greatest of defences but Milan Skriniar, Peter Pekarik and goalkeeper Martin Dubravka have plenty of experience. In fact, Dubravka is an outside tip to be one of the players of the tournament if Slovakia can escape the group stage.
Regarding Group E, Slovakia kicks off their Euros tournament against Poland in St Petersburg on 14 June. They also play Sweden in the Russian capital before flying to Seville for a final group game against favourites Spain. Plenty of emphasis is therefore on the two St Petersburg games – and Slovakia avoided defeat to both Sweden and Poland the last time they met them.
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Marek Hamšík (c)