The Slovakia national football team is on a dream run one can say – the Falcons have won three of their last five matches across all competitions. During the most recent international break Slovakia won against Russia in the European World Cup qualifiers for Qatar 2022 and they are set to make a second appearance at the quadrennial European Championships this summer. Slovakia were drawn in Group E during the qualifying campaign for Euro 2020.
In a group that also contained more experienced sides such as Croatia and Wales, Slovakia managed to finish third and make it to the Nations League play-offs where they were drawn in Path B alongside Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
In the semi-finals in Path B, the Slovaks played the Irishmen and were ultimately victorious on penalties in the Slovakian capital Bratislava. For the final, the squad travelled to Belfast to face Northern Ireland for a place at Euro 2020 and won 2-1 after extra time to book a berth at this summer’s tournament
WHO IS SLOVAKIA’S MANAGER?
Stefan Tarkovic – the man tasked with leading Slovakia from the technical area – was only appointed as the manager of the Falcons ahead of their crucial Path B final with Northern Ireland. His predecessor, Pavel Hapal was relieved of his duties after a string of disappointing results in the Nations League in the aftermath of their Path B semi-final victory over the Republic of Ireland.
Tarkovic had been part of the Slovakia coaching staff set-up during Euro 2016 as assistant to the then Slovakia manager Jan Kozak. Appointing him at the helm just before their Path B final was seen as a rather daring and audacious move by the Slovak FA, but it has paid dividends for them.
Slovakia are on course for just their second appearance at the finals of the European Championships (the first one coming in 2016). In the past Slovakia have preferred to appoint managers who have a pretty strong resume to give account of their playing career, but not this time around.
Tarkovic’s story is an interesting and intriguing one. “When I was 24 I was seriously injured. That’s why I couldn’t develop my playing career that much. I was somewhere on the level of a professional player of the first or second league” Tarkovic told Slovakian news outlet SME Sport.
“Since my talent was very limited from my health potential, I decided to go on a coaching journey”. “When I came to Bratislava in 1992 to study and play football at the same time, I already knew then that coaching at the University would be the basis of what I want to do in the future”. And this summer Tarkovic will be fulfilling his dream of representing his nation at an international tournament, albeit as a manager.
Goalkeepers: Martin Dubravka (Newcastle), Marek Rodak (Fulham), Dusan Kuciak (Lechia Gdansk)
Defenders: Peter Pekarik (Hertha Berlin, Lubomir Satka (Lech Poznan), Denis Vavro (Huesca), Milan Skriniar (Inter), Tomas Hubocan (Omonia), Jakub Holubek (Piast Gliwice)
Midfielders: Patrik Hrosovsky (Genk), Stanislav Lobotka (Napoli), Juraj Kucka (Parma), Matus Bero (Vitesse Arnhem), Marek Hamsik (Goteborg), Ondrej Duda (FC Koln), Tomas Suslov (Groningen), Lukas Haraslin (Sassuolo), Robert Mak (Ferencvaros), Vladimir Weiss (Slovan Bratislava)
Forwards: Erik Jirka (Mirandes), Robert Bozenik (Feyenoord), David Strelec (Slovan Bratislava), Michal Duris (Omonia)
For Slovakia the experience of Marek Hamsik, Martin Dubravka and Milan Skriniar will come in handy in their matches with Spain, Poland and Sweden at this summer’s European Championships, but for the Falcons to progress to the knockout stage the right mix of youth and experience will be crucial.
The star player in the Slovakian squad is surely the Inter Milan centre-back Milan Skriniar. The 26-year old is fresh off from winning a first Scudetto for the Nerazurri under Italian manager Antonio Conte and can prove to be decisive for his national team in this summer’s Euros.
During the most recent international break he got on the scoresheet for the Falcons in two consecutive matches in the European World Cup qualifiers – in matches with Malta and Russia.
Skriniar was pivotal for Conte’s side in their run to the Serie A title this season, helping Inter become the side with the least goals conceded in their domestic league campaign until now.
And his prowess and ability will be crucial for the Slovakians as they have been placed in a group that also contains heavyweights Spain and Robert Lewandowski’s Poland (as things stand, Lewandowski is the most in-form forward on the entire continent).
Add to all this Skriniar’s ability to get on the scoresheet when his team needs him and you get a player who is absolutely indispensable for Slovakia at Euro 2020.
The player to watch out for Slovakia at this summer’s Euros is none other than their 20-year old forward David Strelec who plays for Slovak club Slovan Bratislava in the Fortuna Liga (Slovakia’s first division in the football pyramid). This season the Slovak has made 16 appearances in the Fortuna Liga, scoring 7 goals and creating three others.
He is the son of former Slovak footballer Milan Strelec and made his debut for his national side in March 2021. He made his maiden appearance for Slovakia in the match with Cyprus on 24 March 2021 coming as a substitute. In the second match he came from the bench to open the scoring in the second half as Slovakia drew with Malta.
And it will be interesting to see how the young player performs at one of the biggest stages in international football this summer. He definitely has a chance to impress spectators and pundits alike by stamping his authority in matches with international sides like Spain and Poland and ensure a bright and prosperous future for both his national team and himself. The youngster represents the future of Slovakia in football and Euro 2020 is an excellent stage for him to announce himself.
Slovakia have only ever qualified for the European Championships once before – in the 2016 edition held in France. During that tournament the Slovaks only won a solitary match at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy with Russia courtesy of goals from Weiss and Hamsik.
They qualified for the knockout stage of the tournament, but they were sent packing home by Germany in the Round of 16 as goals from Jerome Boateng, Mario Gomez and Julian Draxler ensured Die Mannschaft’s passage into the quarter-finals
This year the Slovaks have qualified for the European Championships through the long route of play-offs based on their performances in the UEFA Nations League. They had to come out victorios against the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland to earn a place in Group E of the quadrennial tournament.
Their group also contains the likes of three-time winners Spain and a Polish contingent led by the Europe’s and perhaps the world’s best centre forward – Robert Lewandowski. In addition to this, they will have to square off with Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Sweden in the group stage.
As such on paper at least, their chances of qualifying for the knockout stage for the second consecutive time look rather bleak given the relative strength of their fellow teams in Group E of Euro 2020.
Slovakia have been drawn in a rather tough group and the other teams who have been drawn along with them will certainly make life difficult for the Slovaks.
— SFZ (official) (@sfzofficial) November 13, 2020
We here at FootTheBall are of the opinion that Slovakia will most likely be ousted in the group stage itself, but it is not to say that one should write them off completely.
A potential upset in their match with Sweden can definitely turn the tables in the Slovaks’ favour, but do the Falcons have what it takes to make it out of the group stage safely?