England host Slovakia in a crunch World Cup qualifier at Wembley on Monday evening.
Ahead of the match, we take a look at the side hoping to knock Gareth Southgate’s tournament hopes off course.
Slovakia have rallied well since kicking off Group F with back-to-back defeats. Adam Lallana secured England a last-gasp victory in Sam Allardyce’s first – and ultimately final – match at the helm in Trnava, with Slovenia compounding matters the following month. However, Slovakia have won all five qualifiers since then, thrashing Scotland and Lithuania at home before triumphing in Malta and Lithuania. Friday’s 1-0 win against Slovenia leaves them second, just two points behind leaders England.
Jan Kozak has been at the Slovakian helm since 2013 and led the team to the last-16 stage of Euro 2016, where he oversaw a 0-0 group-stage draw with England. A former midfielder and member of the Czechoslovakia squad that finished third at the 1970 European Championship, he began his management career with Kosice – a club he has managed on several occasions. His son, Jan Kozak Jr, played in the 2005-06 Champions League group stage for MFK Petrzalka, while his grandson Filip Lesniak left Tottenham for Aalborg in the summer.
Kozak curses Slovakia’s poor start to qualification and is looking to exact revenge at Wembley. Expect a physically demanding match, with the visitors’ well-drilled players having only conceded four goals in qualification. Victory against Slovenia should give them added motivation and England boss Southgate knows what is coming. “Our matches with them were really tight, at the Euros and in Slovakia down to 10, it took us until the last minute,” Southgate said. “So they are strong, they’re proud, they have good players like (Marek) Hamsik who can hurt you, so we’ve got to be thoroughly well prepared and recovered for the game.”
Marek Hamsik is the undoubted star of the show for Slovakia. An experienced midfielder with an outstanding passing range, the 30-year-old has become a firm fans’ favourite with Napoli since joining a decade ago. Ex-Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel joins Jan Durica in returning from suspension on Monday, bolstering a defence with options such as Marseille’s Tomas Hubocan and Inter Milan new boy Milan Skriniar. Celta Vigo defensive midfielder Stanislav Lobotka impressed at this summer’s Under-21 European Championship and former Manchester City winger Vladimir Weiss can cause problems.
Stay updated with the latest news, gossip and football stories by following us @Football_P