Slovakia are in Dublin for a depleted Ireland’s second Euro 2016 warm-up game. Slovak football journalist Lukáš Vráblik gives us the low-down on the Boys in Green’s fellow qualifiers heading to France this summer.
What are Slovaks’ hopes for their team at Euro 2016?
Slovaks are not so passionate about football as their counterparts, for example, in Ireland. In general, people believe that this team, which is at its peak, could at least be able to advance to the next round. A lot of players – such as Škrtel, Hamšík and the others – are in the best periods of their careers, at least from the point of view of their age.
I would say that the public is well-aware of the quality of the other three teams in Slovakia’s group and if the players give everything on the pitch, they will be satisfied even if their tournament would end after the first three matches.
Will they travel in big numbers to France?
A few thousand fans will be travelling to France, as it is quite close to Slovakia and it is quite a cheap trip. But I don’t expect some kind of organised support at the stadiums – ultras groups and so on. It is not frequent even in Slovakia’s home matches, so I don’t think it will be different in France.
How did you do in qualifying?
Slovakia played really well in qualification, winning the first six matches, including those against Spain and Ukraine. They showed very good performances in all the matches, except that unlucky one at home against Belarus in October 2015. They had a big opportunity to confirm their advancement to the finals, but the players acted very nervously, and despite having a one-man advantage after a red card to Belarus’captain Alyaksandr Martynovich, they lost 0-1.
And who are the standout players in the team?
There are only two key players who are essential for the team’s performance. The first one is Martin Škrtel, captain and the leader of the defence, playing (not so much this season) for Liverpool, who brings surety and solidity to the back four. Then, Slovakia has to rely on playmaker Marek Hamšík, able to create a lot of goal opportunities and score important goals as well.
What do the fans think of the coach?
Coach Ján Kozák has been one of the most important people behind Slovakia’s success. He was often criticized for his eccentric behaviour, however, after his national team appointment he changed a lot and managed to gain a lot of valuable results. He also improved the spirit and attitude of the team, so fans now like him a lot. As a journalist, I also have only good experiences with him. He is very accessible and willing. A nice person and a quality coach.
What is the opinion of Slovaks about the Irish team and supporters?
I would say that Slovaks regard Ireland as ‘a typical Isles side’ with big emphasis on high intensity play and tempo and with big physical strength. In the case of the supporters, Slovaks have always admired your very passionate kind of support, which is not frequent in Slovakia.
How do you see the game going in Dublin?
It could be a very interesting match, even if coach Ján Kozák will make a lot of changes in his line-up and a lot of players from the bench will be playing. I think that Slovakia’s aim for this match will be simply not to lose.
Lukáš Vráblik is a Slovak football journalist who regularly writes for Denník N daily newspaper. He has also contributed to The Blizzard, FourFourTwo, Sky Sports and England FA’s official match programme. He will be writing as Slovakia Euro 2016 expert for ESPN and The Guardian.