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European Championship

Euro 2016 Team Guide: Euro rookies Slovakia ready to fight

01:50 SAST 2016/06/04
Marek Hamsik - Cropped
Led by star man Marek Hamsik, Slovakia battled to qualification from a tricky group, and they are hoping to make a big impression in their maiden outing in the tournament

Coach: Jan Kozak

Key player: Marek Hamsik

Qualifying form: W7, L2, D1

Top scorers in qualifying: Marek Hamsik (5), Adam Nemec (3)

Slovakia will break new ground when they head to France for Euro 2016.

Having split from Czechoslovakia in 1993, the country's football history is still in its relative infancy and this year marks just their second foray into a major international competition and their first appearance at the European Championship.

That sole previous major showpiece outing came on the grandest stage when they reached the second round of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, where they progressed from a group including then-holders Italy.

Having failed to feature in any of the five editions of this tournament since their independence, Slovakia finally reached their goal in October last year when a 4-2 success in Luxembourg secured second place in qualifying Group C behind double defending champions Spain.

A run of six straight victories to begin their campaign - including 2-1 at home to Spain - raised hopes of progressing as group winners, but a subsequent return of just one point from three matches, all without scoring, put paid to those ambitions.

Nevertheless, Jan Kozak's men were able to hold off Ukraine as they booked their automatic place in the finals, where they have been drawn in Group B alongside Wales, England and Russia.

Kozak has previous experience of success at these finals, having been part of the Czechoslovakia squad that finished third in Italy back in 1980.

The coach has something of a reputation as a no-nonsense tactician - something striker Filip Holosko can attest to following March's friendlies against Latvia and Republic of Ireland.

Included in the initial party, Holosko opted to remain in Australia to help his club side, Sydney FC - a stance Kozak did not take kindly to, with the forward subsequently left out of the Euros squad.

One man who will be on the plane is playmaker Marek Hamsik. The Napoli star's five goals proved pivotal in qualifying, not least a late brace in Belarus, as well as another double in the win over Luxembourg which secured their ticket to France.

Liverpool's Martin Skrtel is another key figure and his wild, shirtless celebrations when he and a handful of his team-mates interrupted Kozak's interview after qualifying were stark evidence of what it meant to the defender.

Skrtel will have his work cut out in their opener in Bordeaux on June 11, however, as he lines up against Wales and Real Madrid superstar Gareth Bale.

"We must be careful, because of the pace of Wales, who have a big star. So we need to give more attention," said Kozak following the 2-2 friendly draw with Ireland.

After that Wales test come meetings with Russia and then England, as Slovakia bid to reach the last 16.

Whatever their fortunes, you can guarantee Kozak's men will give their all. As the coach declared after qualification was secure: "We've been fighting for something and succeeded. Now we need to do the same at the championship."