Slovakia’s national team has made steady progress in recent years, capped by qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, their first major international tournament since the 1993 split with the Czech Republic.
Colors: Blue and white
Repre finished first in their group in the qualifying round, ahead of top-ranked Poland, Slovenia and the Czech Republic. Their squad must be taken seriously as they attempt to make it out of Group F and into the final 16.
Slovakia’s unique strength is their mix of speed, wings and power in the middle. No other team, including the Italians, sports this combination. Although the Slovaks can be boring and conservative at times, they’re not afraid to go after loose balls and fight for possession.
To quote the late Rodney Dangerfield, this European team “can’t get no respect.” But they’ll gain gobs of it with a successful group showing in the first round and an advance to the knockout stage.
Key Players: Martin Skrtel, Marek Hamsik and Vladimir Weiss
It’s going to be tough for opponents to get inside the box. Reason: Skrtel, the ’08 Slovakian Player of the Year. A large, physical defender, he can control the center back position and dictate the defense as well as any other big name defender in the competition.
The marvelous Hamsik, dazzling at times, has an uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time. Though he’s only 22, he’ll be the key player to advance play in the offensive zone and open up lanes for the attackers.
Weiss’s dad is the coach, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t earn his spot on the squad. Any defender who takes him lightly will look like he’s running in slow motion. Weiss can cause severe problems along the wing.
Key Matchup: Slovakia vs. Paraguay
The outcome is a tossup, but this could be the deciding game for second place. The Slovaks will try to out-muscle La Albirroja, relying on their strong defense to tire opponents, then counterattack when space is open.
Paraguay will score more goals and slip into second, forcing the Slovaks to head home.
Related link: World Cup 2010 Countdown