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Slovakian football on the rise ahead of World Cup

Slovakian football on the rise ahead of World Cup

Slovakia is among the least experienced teams to qualify for this year's World Cup in South Africa, playing in a major international tournament for the first time since splitting with Czechoslovakia in 1993.
But opponents should be cautious because the Slovaks still have a successful past.
Slovakia was part of Czechoslovakia when the country reached the World Cup final in 1934 and '62, losing to Italy and Brazil, respectively. And Slovaks played a vital role on a Czechoslovak team that won the European Championship in 1976.
Slovakia coach Vladimir Weiss could hardly be called a newcomer. When Czechoslovakia reached the quarterfinals at the 1990 World Cup in Italy, he was there in his role of creative midfielder.
Since Weiss took charge as coach in June 2008, he has enforced discipline and hard work, and the results started to indicate that the Slovaks could be optimistic about their football future after all.
A young and well-organized Slovak team under Weiss defied its underdog status and finished ahead of the Czech Republic and Poland in a surprisingly successful World Cup qualifying campaign to finally get a result that helped Slovakia emerge out of the shadow of its neighbors.
"To play for your country is the best you can achieve in football," Slovakia captain Marek Hamsik said. "We play to the maximum every match. We've been successful and we have to keep it that way."
Slovakia will face New Zealand on June 15 in Rustenburg before playing Paraguay on June 20 and defending champion Italy four days later in Group F.
Weiss said that while he respects his group opponents, his team's goal was to finish among the top two and advance to the second round.
"We're not an outsider but a team that could be a surprise, a positive surprise," he said.
For Weiss, a win in the opener against another group underdog, New Zealand, is crucial for his team.
"We analyze the play of all our opponents but the first match is the toughest one and I focus all my energy on it," Weiss said. "If we succeed in the first match, we have a great chance to advance from the group.
"Italy and Paraguay may count on a victory against us, but we'll go from match to match and the first one is the most important," he said. "It remains to be seen at the championship if we're good enough to beat Paraguay and fight with Italy. It's in our hands."
The 45-year-old Weiss, still young among other coaches, could be credited with creating a young team centered around the 22-year-old Hamsik. But there are also veterans, such as midfielders Miroslav Karhan of Mainz and Zdenko Strba of Greek club Xanthi, and the team's best striker, Robert Vittek of Turkey's Ankaragucu.
"Despite his age, Marek (Hamsik) is already a great player," Weiss said of the Napoli player. "His play is extremely useful for the team and I chose him as captain because he's the leader for the future. There's a great career ahead of him."
With his Serie A experience, Hamsik sees Italy as the toughest opponent.
"They're the defending champions and will fight for a top place," Hamsik said. "They've got perfect tactical skills, excellent defense, it's very difficult to succeed against them, and great midfielders," said Hamsik, who considers Daniele De Rossi of AS Roma the most dangerous one. "He's fantastic in defense and a big threat for the goal."


Updated : 2021-07-27 06:42 GMT+08:00