Slovakia took the scenic route to Euro 2020, conquering both Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in the Nations League play-offs to book their spot, having been edged out of regular qualifying by Wales.
Manager Stefan Tarkovic was parachuted in for the final against the Northern Irish, a bold move which brought the desired results. Not only did he secure their passage to a third major tournament since the country’s independence in 1993, but he followed that up with an unbeaten start to qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in March, culminating in an impressive 2-1 over Russia.
That match may provide the blueprint for how Slovakia approach the tournament, with a 4-2-3-1 setup built around a spine of Inter centre-back Milan Skriniar and Parma midfielder Juraj Kucka, the national captain.
Much will be expected of Skriniar, who played a pivotal role in Inter’s Serie A title success this season and is the standout player in a squad short of quality. Slovakia are the underdogs in Group E against Spain, Sweden and Poland, but it means the pressure is off: Tarkovic arrives at Euro 2020 with plenty of goodwill and a spirited side who have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
(All times BST)
Poland vs Slovakia: St Petersburg, 14 June, 5pm
Sweden vs Slovakia: St Petersburg, 18 June, 2pm
Spain vs Slovakia: Seville, 23 June, 5pm
Goalkeepers: Martin Dúbravka (Newcastle), Marek Rodák (Fulham), Dušan Kuciak (Lechia GdaÅsk).
Defenders: Peter Pekarík (Hertha Berlin), Ä½ubomír Šatka (Lech PoznaÅ), Denis Vavro (Huesca), Milan Škriniar (Inter Milan), Tomáš HuboÄan (Omonoia), Jakub Holúbek (Gliwice).
Midfielders: Marek Hamšík (IFK Göteborg), Stanislav Lobotka (Napoli), Patrik Hrošovský (Genk), Juraj Kucka (Parma), Ondrej Duda (Köln), Róbert Mak (Ferencváros), Vladimír Weiss (Slovan Bratislava), László Bénes (Augsburg), Lukáš Haraslín (Sassuolo), Tomáš Suslov (Groningen), Matúš Bero (Arnhem), Erik Jirka (Mirandés).
Forwards: Michal Äuriš (Omonoia), Róbert BoÅ¾eník (Feyenoord), Dávid Strelec (Slovan Bratislava).
Ones to watch
Star man: Milan Skriniar
A key player in Inter Milan’s Serie A title win this season under Antonio Conte and one of the most highly rated defenders in Europe.
Breakout talent: David Strelec
The 20-year-old striker is well thought of in his homeland having broken into Slovan Bratislava’s first team, and already has an international goal from his first three caps.
Slovakia to win Euro 2020: 150/1
Slovakia face an uphill task just getting out of this competitive Group E. However, the modern format of three third-placed teams progressing to the knockout rounds opens up the draw and gives them hope – one win might do it. The expectation, though, is that they go home at the group stage.