Slovakia are a team who have been punching above their weight on the road to Euro 2016. They arrived at qualification in no form whatsoever after failing to qualify for the previous two tournaments, in fact they have only ever qualified for one major tournament back in 2010 when they successfully reached the World Cup held in South Africa. After seeing these statistics it is somewhat of a mystery how a team that has only reached the one tournament could have once been ranked as high as 16th in the world, but that's FIFA for you.
After a slump in the time preceding the 2010 World Cup which saw Slovakia miss out on the next 2 consecutive international tournaments they were then rejuvenated in their campaign for Euro 2016.
Jan Kozak was appointed manager in late 2013 and while not being able to earn qualification for the immediate tournament the following year he managed to instigate a revival of form just in time for the forthcoming campaign to reach Euro 2016.
He oversaw Slovakia's excellent start winning the first 6 games which included a 2-1 home victory over Spain and a 1-0 away win against Ukraine. They went on to lose 2 out of the last 4 games but the job had already been done and with the likes of Liverpool's Martin Skrtel and renowned goalscorer Marek Hamsik, Slovakia could turn out to be a surprise package at Euro 2016.
There is potentially a lot to like about Slovakia, with a revival in form over recent years and a new manager plus a little experience on their side, Slovakia will no doubt apply themselves well at Euro 2016 but drawn in a highly competitive Group B their chances of advancing are extremely slim.
The size of the task ahead will become pretty obvious when they go into their first game on the 11th June against Wales. Even if they can stand up to the oncoming attacks of both Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale and scrape something from the opener they will then have to face both Russia and England. Slovakia will no doubt have to take at least 3 points from either of these sides which may prove to be a bridge too far for the Slovaks and a 4th place finish and early exit is anticipated.
Slovakia have only previously qualified for one major tournament which was the 2010 World Cup held in South Africa where they were knocked out in the last 16. A record that doesn't impress but maybe reaching a tournament which is much closer to home may inspire this side.
|11.06.16||17.00||Wales||2 - 1||Slovakia|
|11.06.16||20.00||England||1 - 1||Russia|
|15.06.16||14.00||Russia||1 - 2||Slovakia|
|16.06.16||14.00||England||2 - 1||Wales|
|20.06.16||20.00||Russia||0 - 3||Wales|
|20.06.16||20.00||Slovakia||0 - 0||England|
Slovakia will undoubtedly be favourites to prop up Group B at the bottom of the table but this doesn't mean they will be without their chances. All 3 of the other countries will have questions to answer at Euro 2016. England have a terrible record in the group stages of tournament football and will have to overcome their disappointing history in the competition. Wales are playing in their first major international tournament for 58 years and will be putting a huge amount of pressure on their star man Gareth Bale, if he doesn't fire in France then it would leave the Welsh Vulnerable.
Below is a list of the 4 teams drawn in Group B and their FIFA World Ranking, as you can see, Slovakia weigh in at 32, the lowest ranked team, just behind Russia.
The Russians are the other team in the group and they have had a fair amount of turmoil coming into this competition with the change of manager halfway through their qualifying campaign, so questions must also be asked of Russia. As shown, Slovakia may well be favourites to finish bottom but they will no doubt have their fair share of chances during their 3 group matches, but it's expected they will still come up a little short and finish rock bottom.
As expected the quality of Marek Hamsik came through in the qualifying stages and he scored 5 crucial goals to propel Slovakia towards Euro 2016, Hamsik will surely be one to keep an eye on during the group stages and somebody the so called bigger teams will need to be aware of.
Hamsik wasn't the only player to get on the scoresheet during qualifying, veteran forward Adam Nemec also netted 3 times along with Robert Mak and Juraj Kucka who both scored twice to keep the dream alive.
|Robert Mak||25||Midfield / Forward||2|
A tough group for Slovakia means the most probable outcome is an early exit in the group stages. Russia and England may prove to have too much experience and class for this side but the Welsh match could be very close indeed and if Slovakia can get a positive result they may have a chance of getting through in third. The argument against this though is that this would only give the Slovaks 3 points and with only the top 4 scoring 3rd place teams going through, you would imagine 3 points will not be enough and Slovakia will exit in the group stages.
Marek Hamsik may be a surprise package in this tournament. The Napoli player will be keen to perform for his country and will no doubt be the man they turn to when they are undoubtedly in need of a goal or two. A hard working player who is versatile playing in any of the front positions - Hamsik will hope to bring his club form into Euro 2016 and try to help Slovakia cause an upset in Group B.
Slovakia rely heavily on a solid defensive strategy as they generally see very little possession against the better teams, they don't concede many, but also don't score many and will need to take any chances presented to them if they are to stand any chance of progressing to the last 16. The back four all play in top European Leagues such as Liverpool's Martin Skrtel and Roma's Norbert Gyomber. Going forward Slovakia do possess a number of options although none of their front line can be considered prolific, but deeper in midfield they can rely on the talents of Hamsik and Juraj Kucka to unlock the opposing defences.