14 June – Poland (5pm GMT Krestovsky Stadium, St Petersburg)
18 June – Sweden (2pm GMT Krestovsky Stadium, St Petersburg)
23 June – Spain (5pm GMT Estadio de La Cartuja, Sevilla)
Slovakia play the European Championships for the second time in their history and Louis Miller believes their chances to go beyond the group stage depend on some familiar faces for Serie A fans.
Seeking glory in a balanced group
Slovakia will appear in only their second European Championship this summer. A relatively young nation formed in 1993 after the break-up of Czechoslovakia, The Repre, beat both the Irish nations in the play-offs to reach the finals.
The side had stuttered under coach Jan Kozak and poor results led to their relegation from Nations League B and the boss’ dismissal in 2018. The decision to hire Stefan Tarkovic, Kozak’s assistant at Euro 2016, was justified when Slovakia beat Northern Ireland in extra time to book their place at the Euros. A late Milan Skriniar own goal appeared to give the British side the momentum, but Michal Ďuriš fired past Baily Peacock-Farrell to restore the lead with only ten minutes to go, bringing his side to the Euros.
Slovakia will be looking at what they achieved in 2016 when they reached the last 16 of the competition. Former Napoli captain Marek Hamsik was the team’s main star at that time and will be just the same this time around. He joined Goteborg on loan in March and managed one goal in six appearances. It will be the third international tournament in his career after the 2010 World Cup and the Euros in 2016. The 33-year-old is also his nation’s top goalscorer with 26 goals in 126 appearances.
Inter centre-back Škriniar is the key man in the defensive department. He has enjoyed a title-winning year with Inter under Antonio Conte. The 2019 and 2020 Slovakian Player of the Year has operated on the right-hand side of a back three with this club, but the player is arguably more suited to the back four he is expected to line up in this summer.
Škriniar had struggled to adapt in Conte’s first season and was nearly offloaded to Tottenham before the season started, but the 25-year-old was a pivotal part of Inter’s defence that only conceded 35 goals in 2020-21.
There are other familiar faces for Serie A fans, such as Napoli’s Stanislav Lobotka, Parma’s Juraj Kucka, Sassuolo’s Lukas Haraslin and Lazio loanee Denis Vavro who spent the last season on loan at Huesca.
Some may also remember Vladimir Weiss, currently at Slovan Bratislava, but with a past in Pescara where he scored four goals in 22 appearances in 2012-13.
Coach: Stefan Tarkovic – Pavel Hapal was replaced by Tarkovic between the playoff semi and Final. Hapal had managed to guide Slovakia past the Republic of Ireland in a penalty shootout but not trusted with the game that would seal qualification to the Finals.
Look out for: Marek Hamšík: He played for Napoli between 2007 -2014 and was also the clubs leading goal scorer, until Dries Mertens surpassed him in April of this year. The playmaker, who will most likely operate behind the striker in a 4-2-3-1 system, turns 34 after the tournament, which will most likely be his last for the Repre.
Preferred XI: Rodák, Hubocan, Sarka, Škriniar, Pekarik, Lobotka, Kucka, Mak, Hamšík, Duda, Ďuriš.
Slovakia Euro 2020 squad
Goalkeepers: Martin Dubravka (Newcastle), Marek Rodak (Fulham), Dusan Kuciak (Lechia Gdansk)
Defenders: Peter Pekarik (Hertha), Ľubomir Satka (Lech Poznan), Denis Vavro (Huesca), Milan Skriniar (Inter), Tomas Hubocan (Omonoia), Jakub Holubek (Gliwice)
Midfielders: Marek Hamsik (IFK Goteborg), Stanislav Lobotka (Napoli), Patrik Hrosovsky (Genk), Juraj Kucka (Parma), Ondrej Duda (Koln), Robert Mak (Ferencvaros), Vladimir Weiss (Slovan Bratislava), Laszlo Benes (Augsburg), Lukas Haraslin (Sassuolo), Tomas Suslov (Groningen), Matus Bero (Arnhem), Erik Jirka (Mirandes)
Forwards: Michal Duris (Omonoia), Robert Bozenik (Feyenoord), David Strelec (Slovan Bratislava)
… Poland W 3 D 1 L 1 GF 9 GA 9
… Sweden W 0 D 2 L 3 GF 2 GA 11
… Spain W 1 D 0 L 3 GF 4 GA 9
Population: 4.5 million
Nickname: The Repre (national team),Slovenskí sokoli (Slovak falcons)
Top Division: Slovak Super Liga
FIFA World Ranking: 36
International honours: None
Most capped player: Hamšík (126)
Leading international scorer: Hamšík (26)
Slovakia at the European Championships:
2016 – Round of 16 (First appearance)
How they got to Euro 2020 – Slovakia finished 3rd, behind both Croatia and Wales, so they had to do it the hard way via the playoff. Slovenskí sokoli overcame both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland to reach their second consecutive Finals.