The Slovakians are targeting the runners-up spot in Group F behind defending champions Italy
Slovakia’s participation in their first World Cup could easily have been seen as a slice of luck, with better opponents tripping up on their expected easy path to South Africa. Instead, Slovakians see qualification as a sign of the skill and determination of their country’s squad.
Those same qualities are expected to give the side a better than outside chance of making it through Group F. Warnings of the unknown quantity of relative minnows New Zealand put about by the players and coach Vladimir Weiss are seen as little more than polite respect for fellow competitors.
New Zealand are expected to be beaten. Although Paraguay beat Argentina and Brazil in qualifying, and the South Americans’ talent is fully recognised, Slovakia are only four places below them in FIFA’s rankings. The host of players in the squad now playing in top leagues across Europe, including internationally acclaimed captain Marek Hamsik, are viewed as competent enough – if they play to their full ability – to pull off a result against them.
Italy, though, are considered a different matter and few are truly contemplating the possibility of a win over the reigning world champions. But bearing in mind the Italians’ historic tendency to start slowly in tournaments, you cannot rule out the possibility of Slovakia snatching a point.
If Weiss’ men do pull off something special and get through their group, no one has any illusions about what comes next. The coach has knocked back questions on who he would like Slovakia to face in the knockout stage by saying he had “more realistic” goals of getting through the group stage first.
Despite the esteem in which the likes of Hamsik and Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel are held, the ultimate lack of quality in depth makes it a dream too far to feel the Slovaks will grace the late stages of the tournament.
The view from Slovakia
“We’ve got a very capable side which, under coach Weiss, can compete with any team. We have internationally experienced players who perform in strong leagues and have proved their skills at club level, which they showed in the successful qualifying campaign. I am convinced that they will turn in good performances at the World Cup. I believe Slovakia will get through to the knockout stage.”
Jozef Venglos, former Czechoslovakia and Slovakia coach
“We’re in a good group. Obviously Italy are the favourites but it’s good that we have New Zealand in there. We should beat them and then going through will be between us and Paraguay. Our chances are very good, we just have to make sure we don’t ruin them. We have to prepare thoroughly for each game and we cannot underestimate even New Zealand.”
Lubomir Moravcik, former Czechoslovakia and Slovakia international