Republic of Ireland are in last chance saloon territory if they want to go to the European Championship next year with two games next March (hopefully) to determine their fate. A tough road trip series beckons and the first opponent have the organization and attacking threat to cause Mick McCarthy’s men issues. Hawkeye Sidekick looks at the Slovak challenge.
The Slovakian manager is Pavel Hapal. The fifty-year old became national team boss in October 2018 after Jan Kozak quit the post. Hapal played midfield and had spells in Czechoslovakia, Germany and Spain. He won 31 international caps for Czechoslovakia scoring one goal.
Managerial success in domestic league was achieved with MSK Zilina in 2010. Other managerial stints included time in Poland before returning to Slovakia and Czech Republic to manage the likes of FK Senica and AC Sparta Prague. A well respected figure within Czech Republic and Slovakia footballing circles, he has 50% win record with the national side in his short tenure thus far.
A number of Slovakian players will be familiar to Republic of Ireland fans. The goalkeeper position will be filled by Newcastle United player Martin Dubravka. An excellent shot stopper but at times can be exposed managing crosses. The squad also boasts Dominik Greif who was outstanding for Slovan Bratislava against Wolves a couple of weeks ago.
The defensive options for Slovakia has a youthful feel. Pekarkik is the experienced figure here. The 91 capped international plays his club football with Hertha Berlin. Other defenders of note are Skrinar who plays with Internationale in Italy. Tough uncompromising defensive unit who usually setup with four at the back.
The midfield area marquee name is Marek Hamsik who now plays his club football in China. The 120 capped international is the creative hub for this side, always probing with runs from deep and has an excellent passing range. Republic of Ireland may need to think about deploying a man marker on Hamsik because if he gets on the ball regularly, good things will happen for Slovakia.
Robert Mak has the pace and ability on the right flank to cause Ireland issues come next March. Mak plays his club football in Russia (Zenit) has scored 12 times in 58 appearances for his county. The player is tricky, elusive and has provided key moments during this Euro campaign to be highlighted as a key player for Slovakia.
Juraj Kucka who plays his club football with Parma in Italy has chipped in with some vital goals during the qualification campaign. Technically astute, the player has quality shooting skill set. Ireland defensively needs to take note of Kucka looking to take a shot from distance.
The attacking fulcrum will rest with homegrown striker Robert Bozenik. The twenty year old has made a superb start to his international senior career; scoring four goals in eight appearances. He has scored in his last two group games (Croatia and Azerbaijan). A goal poacher who will look to make an impact in the box. Instinctive strike against Croatia last time out.
The Slovakia form guide is quite identical to Republic of Ireland. An underwhelming the UEFA Nations League finishing bottom of their pool containing Ukraine and Czech Republic. One win out of those four games coming against Ukraine at home (4-1 win).
The Euro qualifiers campaign has been a mixed bag. Croatia and Wales advanced from their group. Slovakia will rue their fixtures against Wales in particular; their midfield dominated long periods of those games but only could draw at home while lost to a Dan James goal in Cardiff.
Croatia put Slovakia to the sword in September. It was a rout in the second half as Slovakia failed to respond after Vlasic’s strike just on half-time. Croatia picked Slovakia as the home side organization crumbled and the score line could have been worse only for heroics of Dubravka.
Third place was secured by virtue of defeating Hungary and Azerbaijan home and away. Azerbaijan were hit for seven goals by Slovakia in their two fixtures during this group. If you take those goals out of the scoring difference, goals were hard to come by as Slovakia scored six goals in the other fixtures.
4-3-3 formation is the typical setup for Slovakia. Their midfield is technically strong but question marks remain on the side defensively. Croatia enjoyed space out wide in their most recent fixture and Slovakia were unable to stifle this defensive issue. The set piece defensive work for the Croatian second goal from a corner kick will give Republic of Ireland hope.
A side who will look to be well organized but also with their midfield look to support their attack with probing passes and runs from deep. Slovakia will be a serious challenge for Republic of Ireland but as mentioned, can the Republic of Ireland be able to provide good set piece and final third delivery out wide to cause Slovakia defensive issues. It is all to play for.