There were little flashes of brilliance from him on Saturday in Bordeaux, but Marek Hamsik showed Euro 2016 what he is all about on Wednesday with the greatest individual performance of the tournament so far to lead Slovakia to a 2-1 Group B win over Russia in Lille.
Against Wales on matchday one he had opened up looking ready to rock the continent, dancing past a number of defenders before rounding goalkeeper Danny Ward only to see his shot wonderfully cleared by the rapidly retreating Ben Davies. As the debuting Welsh got on top thereafter, the Napoli midfielder saw his influence stifled somewhat.
But he was not to be denied by the Russians, turning in a dazzling showing which had Leonid Slutsky’s side on their knees by half-time.
While there wasn’t much between the two teams in the opening exchanges, it was Hamsik who looked set to make the difference right from the start. His excellent angled run in the 10th minute led him to the edge of the box, from where he unleashed a left-foot drive which just about cleared Igor Akinfeev’s bar at the near post.
Then, as Russia began to build up a period of pressure, it was Hamsik who sent an incisive left-foot pass over their defence into the path of Vladimir Weiss. The Al-Gharafa star cut inside and delivered an excellent right-foot finish. It was an exquisite strike from Weiss, yet it had nothing on the pass which had made the opening in the first place.
He was far from done there. Next up, he drove at the heart of the Russia defence before thundering a right-foot shot on the stretch which just missed the target. But just when it looked as though he wouldn’t get the first-half goal his performance deserved, he struck brilliantly on the stroke of half-time.
Taking Weiss’ short corner on his left foot, he shifted the ball to his right and drilled a sensational strike from the left across the face of Akinfeev and inside the far post. As he stood with his hands to his ears taking the Slovakia fans’ acclaim, he deserved every bit of the uncontrollable adoration they sent his way.
Russia simply had to make a game of it in the second half, but Denis Glushakov's late header proved small consolation. They had been unable to throw too many men forward before the dying stages simply because of Hamsik's threat on the break.
In a competition short on dominant performances so far, Hamsik’s was a masterclass on the power one individual can have over a fixture. He turned up hungry and ready to impress, and with Russia finding it increasingly difficult to keep a rein on him he simply took over. Carrying such a threat on either foot and from almost everywhere on the pitch, the 28-year-old was simply unplayable.
He had insisted before the clash against Wales that the game was not just Gareth Bale versus Marek Hamsik, and he was proven right for the most part as both found themselves largely neutralised. Yet Wednesday’s game transpired as Hamsik v Russia, with Hamsik coming out on top by some distance.
There has been a lot of talk about Cristiano Ronaldo and Paul Pogba, Gareth Bale and Thomas Muller. Yet Marek Hamsik is the man who has set the benchmark for the others to live up to at Euro 2016.