Slovensko / Slovakia
- Capital: Bratislava
- Official Languages: Slovak
- Nicknames: Sokoli (The Falcons); Repre (The Representatives)
- Association: Slovenský futbalový zväz (SFZ)
- FIFA Code: SVK
- Best World Cup Result (Men): Round of 16 (2010)
- Best World Cup Result (Women): Not Qualified
- Best Euros Result (Men): Round of 16 (2016)
- Best Euros Result (Women): Not Qualified
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Men): 14th (August 2015)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Women): 34th (December 2006)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Men): 150th (December 1993)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Women): 48th (December 2017)
- Most Capped Player: Marek Hamšík – 126 caps [as of Feb 2021]
- Top Scorer: Marek Hamšík – 26 goals [as of Feb 2021]
The Republic of Slovakia, officially known as the Slovak Republic (Slovenská republika), is a landlocked country situated in Central Europe. Originally consisting of the eastern half of Czechoslovakia, the country became independent in 1993 in a peaceful ‘divorce’ between themselves and the Czech Republic / Czechia. They subsequently joined UEFA in the same year as independence, and FIFA in the following year. Despite competing throughout the 1990s and 2000s, it wouldn’t be until the 2010 World Cup when Slovakia would qualify for their first major tournament as an independent nation. Despite being a ‘pot four’ ranked team, they would finish their World Cup qualifying group as winners, finishing above Slovenia, Poland and neighbours Czech Republic (who were the ‘pot one’ team in the group). They would continue their impressive run by finishing in second place in their World Cup group, beating and knocking out the defending champions Italy, to progress to the Round of 16. Sadly they would lose to the Netherlands in the next round, although narrowly losing 1-2 in Durban.
Alas that is the only World Cup appearance for the Sokoli so far, however they have subsequently appeared, and scheduled to appear, in the 2016 and the upcoming 2020/21 European Championships respectively. In the 2016 edition, they qualified for the knockout rounds as one of the best performing third-placed teams, having finished behind Wales and England in their group, but were subsequently eliminated from the tournament by the defending world champions Germany 0-3 in the Round of 16. Despite missing out on the 2018 World Cup (even though they finished second in their qualifying group but missed out on progressing to the playoffs as the worst-ranked runners-up from the nine groups), they qualified for the upcoming Euros through the UEFA Nations League playoff route. Firstly they overcame the Republic of Ireland on penalties after a goalless game, and then beat Northern Ireland at Belfast 2-1 after extra time to confirm their appearance in their third major tournament. Being in a Euro group with Spain, Sweden and Poland, Slovakia may possibly appear in another knockout game come this summers’ European Championships.
Talking about the 2010 World Cup qualifiers, and qualifiers of the 2016 and the upcoming 2020/21 European Championships, we interviewed the excellent Thanos Michael from Slovak Football. As their Twitter account name suggests, Slovak Football is a superb Twitter account which focuses on all things involving the interesting world of Slovak football, all provided in medium of the English language. To find their social media accounts, follow the links below:
Q. Who would you say is your country’s best player and coach/manager of all-time, and the reasonings behind the choices?
Now as you know, Slovakia is a relatively “new” country having come into existence on the 1st January 1993 with the peaceful dissolution of Czechoslovakia [also known as the ‘Velvet Divorce‘]. With Czechoslovakia having been a very, very successful national team with great success on the pitch I think it’s only fair that I will try to give a “double” answer for the 1st question, one answer for the 1918-1993 Czechoslovak period and another for the 1993-today Slovak period.
Czechoslovakia Era: It’s really difficult to answer who the best Slovak player in that era was. Marián Masný and Karol Dobiaš are definitely two of the best, both integral parts of the 1976 European Championships winning squad (also the two Slovaks with most caps for Czechoslovakia – 75 caps and 67 caps respectively). Jozef Adamec was also one of the most gifted Slovak players of those years, famously netting a hat-trick in a friendly against Brazil (a 3-2 win in Bratislava in 1968). There were plenty of more great Slovak players in these days.
Slovakia Era: It has to be none other than Marek Hamšík. The first ever Slovak superstar, Napoli appearance record holder, briefly record goalscorer as well, most-capped player and record goalscorer with the national side. No real analysis needed really! Of course, you know all about Martin Škrtel. A superb defender, with a long and very successful career both domestically and internationally. He comes second, just after Hamšík.
I have to give a mention though to Peter Dubovský. Born in 1972, capped for both Czechoslovakia and Slovakia, moved to Real Madrid in 1993 after the last ever Czechoslovak League, then moved to Real Oviedo and stayed there for 5 years. He was a really, really, really good player, but tragically died at 28 years old in an accident while on holiday. He was an outstanding player, Slovakia’s best export before Hamšík. Could have been on par with Hamšík had this not tragic incident occur.
When it comes to managers, I obviously have to go with Dr. Jozef Vengloš, both for Czechoslovakia and Slovakia times. He was assistant to (also Slovak born) Václav Ježek in 1976 and then took over as head coach, taking them to 3rd place in Euro 1980. He also took Czechoslovakia to the 1982 World Cup, and then to the quarter-finals in the 1990 World Cup. He had the famous spell at Aston Villa in 1990-91 (becoming the first non-British or Irish manager to be appointed by an English top flight team), he was the first manager of Slovakia in 1993 and then had the well known spell at Celtic in 1998-99.
Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ in terms of the national team both in the past and present?
Obviously Hamšík is a cult hero, his hair alone ensure cult status. Martin Škrtel again is almost on par with him. Róbert Vittek a slightly older one, former record goalscorer and hero of the 2010 World Cup.
Q. Of the current team, who would you say is the best player from Slovakia currently?
Marek Hamšík and Juraj Kucka were the most outstanding performers in the last batch of games that included the successful qualification for the 2020/21 European Championships via the playoffs. Kucka has been immense for Parma as well, despite them sitting in the Serie A relegation zone. Marek Rodák of Fulham and Milan Škriniar of Inter have been really good as well and are vital parts of the national side.
Q. How would you describe the current state/performance of the national team?
Mixed feelings. The team was quite bad in the UEFA Nations League and were deservedly relegated. This was of course countered by the great success of qualifying for the upcoming Euros, having beaten the Republic of Ireland on penalties, and then Northern Ireland in extra time. The fact that a manager change took place between these two games shows that other results and performances were not good at all. So on one hand there is satisfaction in Slovakia having qualified for the Euros for a second successive time, but nobody expects much, with the team having been mediocre in the main qualifiers and quite bad in the Nations League.
Q. Are there any Slovakian players who you think we should be focusing on for the future – who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent from the country?
There are two names of youngsters that Slovak fans have lots of hope for. First of all is of course Róbert Boženík, the young 21 year old striker that moved to Feyenoord last year. He started well there but has not played much since the first COVID-19 break last spring and he had a nasty foot injury in the meantime. Everyone hopes that he will be the good striker that Slovakia desperately needs.
Secondly, Tomáš Suslov is another one. Just 18 years old and getting frequent playing time at Groningen, he made his debut for the national side a few months ago and has filled plenty of fans with hope for the future.
Special mention to 23 year old Lászlo Bénes who moved to Borussia Mönchengladbach a few years ago, a really big talent but he has been unlucky with injuries. This season and the next one is ‘make or break’ for him I think.
Q. Looking at Slovakia’s international history, what would you say has been the best game, result or performance for the national team in your opinion?
Czechoslovakia Era: Czechoslovakia has reached the World Cup Final twice, but it’s trophies that count the most so of course it has to be the UEFA European Championships 1976 final win on penalties over West Germany. Now of course, this game is mostly remember for introducing the Panenka penalty to the wider world, but this moment of brilliance was just the pinnacle of what was an outstanding team effort. In order to qualify for the 1976 Euro Finals, Czechoslovakia had first of all to navigate through a qualifying group that contained England, Portugal and Cyprus, with a round-robin format, with Czechoslovakia finishing 1st (only the top team progressed). The quarter-finals followed with Czechoslovakia beating the Soviet Union over two legs, thus qualifying for the grand finals in Belgrade. The semi-final was against a Netherlands side (the World Cup Finalists at the time) that contained Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens, Johnny Rep, etc, and Czechoslovakia won the game 3-1 in extra time.
Having beaten all these opponents makes it quite clear that winning in the final against the reigning World Champions was no fluke. And while it was Antonín Panenka (a Czech) that everyone remembers, it’s quite important to point out that from the starting XI in the final, 7 of the players were Slovaks, 3 were Czechs, and 1 was a Hungarian (Hungarians are the largest minority in Slovakia) who was born in what is now the Czech Republic but played most if his football career with Slovak-based clubs! That is why Slovaks, still to this day, celebrate this success as one of their own, as the Czechoslovak team at that moment was mostly Slovak-centered (unlike previous or subsequent teams that were mostly Czech-centered).
Slovakia Era: It’s quite easy to answer that question since it has to be the 3-2 win over Italy in the FIFA 2010 World Cup. Italy were the reigning World Champions and Slovakia were in their first (and only to this date) apperance in the World Cup since independence in 1993. This win meant that Italy were knocked out of the tournament and Slovakia qualified for the Round of 16.
Q. Likewise, is there a performance or result which is regarded as the team’s lowest point?
This is a bit of a difficult question to answer I guess but I believe that the Slovakia versus Armenia 0-4 game for the 2012 Euro Qualifiers must be high up there.
Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the Slovakia national team?
Best Thing: Honestly I’m not sure. I guess the fact that you can frequently watch some high quality players (not just the Slovaks of course, but from other nations included) is a big plus, something that comes with every national team really.
Worst Thing: Definitely the fact that SFZ (the Slovak FA) are well-known for their [alledged] corruption and incompetence, something that is always reflected in the ticket prices. The average cheapest ticket price for a Slovakia national team game is usually around at least 3 times more expensive than the average cheapest ticket that is available for a Slovak Super Liga game. Prices are ridiculously high for Slovakian standards.
Q. Have the fans adopted some kind of unofficial anthem to sing along to before/during/after matches?
There is a song that is mostly sung during hockey games and it’s called ‘Macejko‘, some fans have adopted it for football games as well.
Q. Do you have a favourite or iconic shirt from the whole time of the national team?
I don’t really usually care about shirts, however I do like a few shirt that I will list:
- The classic Czechoslovakia shirts of the 60’s and 70’s.
- The superb Nintendo-pixelated style Czechoslovakia shirts of the 1990 World Cup.
- Slovakia shirts since 1993 have usually been bland, so if I had to choose one I would choose the 2018 away shirt.
Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of the Slovakian national team?
Regarding the future, I want to see the national side continue to promote youngsters and to continue appearing in major finals every, let’s say, two tournaments. For a small nation with a population of just over 5 million people, Slovakia have performed quite well since the split and I would like to see that continuing in the future. There needs to be a bigger focus on growing the domestic league as well which is suffering at the moment.
A massive Ďakujem mnohokrát to Thanos from Slovak Football for answering our questions on the Sokoli. Remember you can find their social media accounts in the links at the top of the blogpage.
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