England can take another big step towards World Cup qualification when they face Slovakia in Monday’s qualifier at Wembley.
A victory would send Gareth Southgate’s side five points clear at the top of Group F, but what can they expect from second-placed Slovakia? And who are the danger men?
We get the lowdown from Slovakian football journalist Lukas Vrablik…
Are people in Slovakia happy with the team?
Of course, they are doing a good job at the moment. After two losses at the start of the qualifying campaign, they fought back and won all five following games, including a great performance against Slovenia on Friday.
I think there is a feeling that players work hard for the team and try to give their best, and that has not always been the case in Slovakia. That shown by the big crowds at their home games. The stadium was nearly sold out for the 1-0 win over Slovenia.
How about the coach? Is he doing a good job?
Jan Kozak is popular here. He is a great motivator, who manages to bring the best out from his players. He has had some scandals in the past, but it looks like he changed and is valued a lot.
Under his management, the national team have been undergoing a generation change. He has taken several players from their successful U21 team and given them a chance in the senior team. For example, Milan Skriniar, Ondrej Duda and Stanislav Lobotka.
Kozak usually chooses a good strategy, and has definitely been the most successful Slovakia coach since the country gained independence in 1993.
Who are the danger men for England to worry about?
Of course there is Marek Hamsik, the only world class player in the squad, and the guy who is a focal point for the team. Most of the action goes through him. He brings ideas and creativity into the team. It would be very hard for the team to function without him.
Left winger Vladimir Weiss is very quick and technical, and can really outwit defenders, even if it is not certain that he will be playing, as he is not fit enough to play full 90 minutes at his best at the moment. Right winger Robert Mak is also very quick, useful in counter-attacks and can score goals. Both of them came through Manchester City’s academy so they certainly have the pedigree.
What will be Slovakia’s tactics for the game at Wembley?
It’s very hard to say, but I think Kozak’s intention will be to go at least for a draw, and to make everything he can to ensure that he will get at least that one point.
I would expect them to focus on their defence instead of attacking England with the aim to win and jump above them in the table. However, they have also been saying they are able to win at Wembley.
It will be interesting to see if Kozak uses the 4-6-0 system without a typical centre-forward, because he has used it almost every time Slovakia have played against one of the biggest teams. They have had a problem in the striker department since 2010 World Cup and Robert Vittek’s retirement, so I would expect Kozak to put as Hamsik the most advanced player with wingers supporting him.
What would it mean for Slovakia to reach the World Cup?
It would be their second consecutive major tournament participation, and their second-ever appearance at the World Cup. Football has fought with ice hockey in terms of popularity in the country, but hockey players have disappointed a few times in the recent years and the footballers have improved a lot, so it could make football the most popular sport.
I think that it might be the last time the old generation of the players play together, as there are young players coming in from the youth teams. In the 2000s, Slovak fans only dreamed of a big tournament, but in this decade, they have already participated in two.
Reaching another World Cup could prove that Slovak football has finally improved, and that it is heading in the right direction, with the U21s great performance at the European Championship in June still in mind.