Pavel Hapal, the manager of Slovakia, is confident his team can triumph against Ireland in March’s Euro 2020 play-off semi-final and set up their second visit to the European Championship finals.
Slovakia have only qualified once as an independent nation, back in 2016 when they made the round of 16. They were beaten 3-0 by Germany after coming through a group stage featuring England and Wales. To achieve the same again at the Euro 2020 would certainly be impressive, but first Slovakia must get past Mick McCarthy’s Ireland in the play-off game, something Hapal thinks is possible for his side,
“Ireland will be a tough opponent”, he said ahead of their clash on March 26th.
“They play a typical British-style game, they are aggressive and engage in personal and aerial battles. Physically, the game will be very demanding, but we will match them in terms of the football side of things, maybe we will be even better”.
“Being at home is a big advantage, I believe our fans will stand with us, that they will fill the stadium and push us on towards victory”, he added.
Ireland struggled through the group stages, winning just three games in a group consisting of Georgia, Gibraltar, Switzerland and Denmark. Two of their wins came against whipping boys Gibraltar, which gives Slovakia some hope of progression. They won four of their eight games in a tight group containing Wales.
Whilst Ireland’s form hasn’t been sparkling, they do boast several players currently playing very well in the Premier League. Sheffield United’s Callum Robinson, David McGoldrick and Enda Stevens are all doing well in the top flight, whilst Burnley’s Jeff Hendrick is also looking impressive.
A post by bwin explains how Burnley put breathing space between themselves and the bottom of the Premier League table with a 2-0 win against Manchester United recently, with Hendrick impressing in the middle of the park. The 27-year-old has 54 caps for his country and is sure to be a part of the side facing Slovakia.
Hapal’s side have emerged as one of the stronger European nations in recent seasons and have plenty of quality of their own. They finished second to England in qualifying for the 2018 World Cup but were the worst placed runners up and failed to qualify for Russia. That’s left fans hungry for an international tournament and Euro 2020 would be just the tonic.
Captain Marek Hamsik will probably be playing in his final tournament as, at the age of 32, will surely soon be replaced. One rising star likely to be key against Ireland is Stanislav Lobotka who recently signed for Napoli. Another Slovak making a high-profile move is Ondrej Duda; he’s gone on loan to Premier League side Norwich looking to secure his place in the play-off squad.
Extra Sport details how the winner of the first play-off game, set to be contested at the new Tehelné Pole Stadium in Bratislava, will progress to face either Bosnia or Northern Ireland five days after the March 26th tie for a place in Euro 2020.
Ireland’s McCarthy is set to stand down after the tournament if his side gets there, and that combined with their weak qualifying campaign surely gives Slovakia hope of at least getting into the final play-off game before hopefully being at the showcase event in the summer.
Main photo credit: TASR