Euro 2020 preview, Group E – Slovakia: Lukas Vrablik believes knockout stage is a realistic target
Our Matchday Squad will cover every nation at the Euros
For Euro 2020, we’ve assembled 24 expert journalists to give you the latest insight and tips on every team throughout the tournament.
Here, journalist Lukas Vrablik gives us his take on Slovakia…
Give us an overview of your team’s chances at Euro 2020
Slovakia’s Euro 2020 qualification was a roller-coaster. Pavel Hapal’s side won twice in derbies against Hungary but then they lost 0-4 and 1-3 against Croatia and couldn’t beat Wales. The tournament looked like a distant dream but then they qualified through the play-offs. Hapal was sacked after the semi-final and replaced by Stefan Tarkovic.
It was far from convincing but getting to three tournaments in a decade surely proves something. Slovakia might be in the middle of a rebuild with generation of players changing, yet they still are able to put on a good fight. They are confident of getting some points against Poland, Sweden and Spain and the next round is a realistic target, especially given they have managed to get to the knockout stages at both the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2016.
Slovakia has always played at their best in the games when they are not forced to create and can sit deep and go into fast counter-attacks. The game plan of their opponents indicates they might be able to do that, and they have already beaten Spain in 2014.
What would you say are your team’s major strengths?
Slovakia’s biggest strength is the collective, which – when well-organised – can lead them to good results. In a lack of world-class players, Slovakia have thrived thanks to fast wingers and solid centre of midfield with Marek Hamsik at the heart of the team.
Under the new coach Stefan Tarkovic, Slovakia has shown some good things, but they do also need to heavily improve as they couldn’t even beat Cyprus and Malta in their March qualifiers. However, a mixture of Hamsik, Juraj Kucka, a new young leader in Milan Skriniar and a lot of exciting talents can be the basis for Slovakia’s success.
And any weaknesses?
Slovakia could always rely on a solid defence but after international retirement of Jan Durica and Martin Skrtel, long-time centre-back partners, it has been very hard for Slovakia’s coaches to find their successors.
Milan Skriniar has become important at Inter as they won the Scudetto and he has been great in the national team lately, too. However, the defence looks quite shaky generally.
Apart from that, Slovakia has just been too dependent on Marek Hamsik in the attack. That is natural because he has been the best player in the squad, but it creates a problem tactically: Slovakia might be predictable due to that.
Give us the lowdown on your team’s star player?
Easy – Marek Hamsik. The national team’s captain since the age of 22, Hamsik has been influential for the national team: creating chances, scoring goals and directing all the players alongside him. Already with 126 games for Slovakia, he has become an icon in his home country.
Hamsik has struggled with his match fitness when he didn’t play in China at the end of the year, so he surprisingly moved to Goteborg in Sweden in April and there is a hope he will be in his best shape at the tournament, similarly as at Euro 2016 when he inspired the team to win against Russia with marvellous goal.
And tell us about a player from your team who could be a breakthrough star at this tournament?
18-year-old Tomas Suslov is the talent everyone should be looking at. Suslov played well in the qualifier against Malta and he’s likely to get more playing time this year.
Despite his age, attacking midfielder Suslov has already proved to be one of Groningen’s stars. There are rumours about Premier League interest and it looks like he has a big potential. He’s great with the ball, fast and believes in himself.
Suslov might be the most interesting young player in the team, and this might also be a tournament where Ondrej Duda and Laszlo Benes star, even if they play at the same position as Hamsik.
How far do you think your team can go in this tournament?
Slovakia is a very difficult team to predict. When nothing is expected out of them, they usually push themselves to a strong performance and great victory. When they are expected to win, they usually can’t do it. This might be a mentality thing, but now, after a bad start to World Cup qualifiers, Slovak fans don’t expect much from their side at the tournament.
That might play in Slovakia’s favour. Twice, they somehow managed to crawl from the group stage at final tournaments, and then it depends on who they get in the next round. In my opinion, the round of 16 is a very realistic target.
Easy one to finish with, who wins the tournament, and who do you think will be top scorer?
England are going to win this time, with Harry Kane getting the trophy for top goalscorer.