Having emerged top of a qualifying group which included the likes of Slovenia, Poland and the Czech Republic, Vladimir Weiss’ side are quickly building a very good reputation for themselves in world football and have impressed of late with an attractive brand of fast, attacking football. 22 goals in 10 qualifying rounds made the team one of the most prolific in Europe and they certainly have the ability to cause Paraguay and Italy, their two most dangerous group opponents, some problems in South Africa.
With Weiss usually setting his side up in a loose 4-4-2, the Coach has built his defence around the substantial talents of Martin Skrtel and Jan Durica, two imposing and uncompromising centre-halves capable of handling the vast majority of strikers they encounter at international level. In the centre of midfield Zdeno Strba plays the holding role, sitting deep and deconstructing opposition attacks, whilst Napoli’s Mark Hamsik, Slovakia’s creative fulcrum, looks to get forward and bring the strikers in to play. In the wide areas Vladimir Weiss of Bolton Wanderers – the Coach’s son – has been favoured on the right side, with the highly-rated Marek Sapara (once of Rosenborg) deployed on the left, both of whom provide a good quality of service to the front two, Robert Vittek and Stanislav Sestak. In qualifying it was Sestak who proved himself invaluable to the team, scoring six goals to finish as the equal fourth-highest goalscorer in Europe, with the vastly experienced Vittek an excellent foil.
Although the Slovaks may appear, at least on paper, to be the “third” team in Group F behind Italy and Paraguay, Weiss’ side, with their strong spine of Mucha, Skrtel, Hamsik and Sestak, should not be discounted. A win in their first game against New Zealand would set up a fascinating second fixture against Paraguay, a game which, should Slovakia win, something which would not be a huge surprise (the teams are ranked 30th and 38th respectively), would likely see them progress through to the second round. Expectations are high in Slovakia and, although predictions of an appearance in the last 16 would be premature, there are reasons for the central Europeans to be optimistic.
Probable starting XI: Mucha (Legia Warsaw); Pekarik (Wolfsburg), Durica (Hannover 96), Skrtel (Liverpool), Cech (West Bromwich Albion); Weiss (Bolton Wanderers), Strba (Skoda Xanthi), Hamsik (Napoli), Sapara (Ankaragucu); Vittek (Ankaragucu), Sestak (Bochum)
The Road to South Africa: 1st in UEFA Group 3
World Ranking: 38th