Team guides for Euro 2024 part 19: Slovakia

<span>Slovakia’s players swamp David Hancko after his opening match in the first minute against Liechtenstein last September, with all three of their goals coming before the seventh minute.</span><span>Photo: Radovan Stoklasa/Reuters</span>” src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTY5Mw–/ 2858e55b561e3312″ data-src= “–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTY5Mw–/ e55b561e3312″/><button class=

The Slovak players swamp David Hancko after his opening match in the first minute against Liechtenstein last September, with all three of their goals coming before the seventh minute.Photo: Radovan Stoklasa/Reuters

This article is part of the Guardian’s Euro 2024 Experts’ Network, a collaboration between some of the top media organizations from the 24 countries that qualified. will provide previews from two countries every day in the run-up to the tournament, which starts on June 14.


Slovakia fans are naturally skeptical and have a habit of being loud when the team is doing well, but missing out when the results are bad. In recent years, supporters have not had much to celebrate after particularly poor results in the Nations League (they finished third in their group, having lost at home to Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan and drawn with Belarus).

However, when it comes to the European Championships, they have qualified for their third tournament in a row, having kicked into gear following the sacking of the heavily criticized Stefan Tarkovic following some frustrating and lethargic performances in the summer of 2022.

The Slovak FA decided to appoint a foreign coach. Not only that, but it also applied to someone who had never worked as a head coach. However, Francesco Calzona could not have been more recommended as national team legend Marek Hamsik – who made a record 138 appearances for his country – threw his support behind the Italian after working with him for many years at Napoli.

Calzona was Maurizio Sarri’s assistant at the Serie A club, but the decision obviously raised eyebrows, especially among former Slovakia internationals. However, the 55-year-old has turned Slovakia’s fortunes around. The first thing he did was give the players some much-needed confidence, especially when it came to the system they played with. Slovakia started to record wins – and draws – again and ended qualifying with just two narrow defeats against standout group winners Portugal.

Calzona prefers a sort of 4-3-3 formation – although it can also be seen as a 4-1-4-1 – with high pressing from two No. 8s (usually Juraj Kucka and Ondrej Duda). He has tried to implement a high-tempo game instead of a park-the-bus attitude seen in previous major tournaments. The full-backs are encouraged to attack.

However, there is still work to be done to win over an audience that has never been satisfied. Regardless of how the European Championship goes, there is a consensus that Slovakia must renew after the tournament. The average age of the starting XI during the qualifying campaign drifted towards 30, making them the oldest team of all.


The coach

Francesco Calzona was a long-time collaborator and assistant of Sarri, and has tried to implement “Sarrismo” in Slovakia. That has been his main advantage. Previously profiled as a ‘defensive expert’, Calzona has introduced some new and interesting attacking patterns and reaching the Euro was a perfect response to all the criticism. “For a so-called assistant, he’s not that bad,” Slovakia’s defensive midfielder Stanislav Lobotka said jokingly. In the spring, after the latest upheavals at Napoli, the Slovak Football Association agreed to allow Calzona to take over as interim head coach at the Serie A club while he prepared for the European Championship.

The icon

Stanislav Lobotka is another person who has had a hard time winning over Slovak fans (there’s a theme here). Three years ago, his mere inclusion in the European Championship squad was criticized for being out of form, but now the Napoli midfielder is one of the best players in his position in Serie A. In 2022-2023 he played a big role in Napoli’s win. their second ever Scudetto and he is as good at winning possession as he is creating chances, helping Slovakia break the opposition lines. His form is so good that he has been linked with a move to Barcelona or Real Madrid as his playing style is similar to Andrés Iniesta. “It’s great to be compared to him, but it has created a lot of expectations and increased the pressure on me,” he says. “I think I’m a different type of player.”

One to watch

Currently the 26-year-old defender David Hanko is the team’s most interesting player to watch. He is one of the best central defenders in the Eredivisie, where he helped Arne Slot’s Feyenoord win the league in 2023. Interestingly, he is normally deployed as a left wing-back for the national team, where he has been very influential in terms of chance creation. His versatility and ability in defense and attack have attracted interest from Premier League clubs. In the past there has been talk of a move to West Ham or Aston Villa, but at the moment following Slot to Liverpool seems like a logical choice.

The outsider

Tomas Suslov has been criticized by Calzona in the past. Suslov is known for his confidence, but it appears he has taken the feedback to heart and could be in line for a starting spot in Germany, especially after another outsider Robert Mak was left out of the squad. Suslov has had a good year at Verona after a turbulent departure from Groningen and his technical ability and unpredictability with the ball make him an interesting choice for Slovakia’s attack. Suslov has even started tracking. He is more consistent now and could become a player with the ability to shine on the big stage. The match against Ukraine will be special for him because he has family there on his father’s side.

The backbone

Newcastle’s Martin Dubravka is the undisputed number 1 goalkeeper, putting in reliable performances for the national team, even if he is not a regular at club level. Milan Skriniar leads the defense as a central defender with the captain’s armband, Kucka also fulfills the role of No. 8 Lobotka and is a perfect “box-to-box midfielder” with incredible fitness levels, even at the age of 37. Duda carries most of the playing responsibilities and is a natural successor to Hamsik, but centre-forward is a problem position. Robert Bozenik seems the most likely choice.

Probably starting XI

Famous fan

The Slovak rapper, Pill C, He is expected to closely follow his country’s matches, as he is a friend of Duda, and will also rap about Robert Vittek’s famous four goals at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the first time Slovakia had won major tournament. “I’m in shape like Robo Vittek at the World Cup,” he rapped in the song One Shot. Slovakia’s successful alpine skier, Petra Vlhova, is also a fan.

Culinary delight

When fans come to the stadium to watch a football match, their usual choice is: klobasa (sausage) with ketchup or mustard and a few slices of bread, as well as a pint of beer. It is also the most common post-match meal for players in the lower levels of the Slovak league.

Team Guide to Slovakia written by Lukas Vrablik for the Guardian Experts’ Network

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