With all the excitement over England versus Wales in France this summer, Russia and especially Slovakia have somewhat gone under the radar ahead of the European Championships in France, but it’s time to swat up and get to know your opponents.
Under skipper Martin Skrtel, Slovakia came through a qualifying group featuring Spain and the Ukraine, winning seven of their ten fixtures.
One of those wins was a 1-0 success in Spain, and if they can do that, they can certainly cause a surprise in France.
We’ve done the scouting for you and laid out what you need to know about the Group B underdogs…
Danger Man – Marek Hamsik
The Napoli winger is at the peak of his career at 28-years-old and his five goals in qualifying were crucial to the Slovakian cause.
Capable of pieces of sublime skill, Hamsik is also the most experienced member of the squad but took on the role of leader admirably during the qualifying campaign.
Often utilised as the central man just behind the striker, Hamsik will be pivotal for how well Slovakia fare in France, but he has the potential to cause plenty of problems to England, Wales and Russia.
Under the Radar – Robert Mak
PAOK FC winger Mak was a part of the Manchester City youth team alongside compatriot Vladimir Weiss, and Filip Mentel between 2008 and 2010, but none the trio made the grade.
Moving to FC Nuremburg kick-started the pacey midfielders career, and he quickly adapted to life in the Bundesliga.
Now in his second term with Greek side PAOK, the 24-year-old has continued to improve, netting home and away against Borussia Dortmund in the Europa League.
A beauty of a left foot producing sterling crosses, coupled with some rapid pace means Mak is going to cause full-backs major problems this summer.
The Lynch Pin – Jurac Kucka
The AC Milan midfielder was near enough an ever present during the successful qualifying run, and is no stranger to big tournaments having played a crucial role to Slovakia in the 2010 World Cup.
The 29-year-old is the holding man who will try and stop anything that comes through the middle.
After four years with Genoa, Kucka switched to II Rossoneri last summer and has quickly proven capable of the challenge at the San Siro club.
At 6ft 1in, he’s a pretty physical presence too and won’t be shy about clattering into the likes of Jordan Henderson and Aaron Ramsey in their Group B clashes.
They’ve been handed underdog status in Group B, but there’s every reason to believe they can pull off a Costa Rica and upset the apple cart.
Having reached the second round of the 2010 World Cup, and gone toe-to-toe with Spain in qualifying for France, anyone who lets their guard down against Slovakia will likely be punished.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.