Slovakia looks for another big upset when it meets England

LILLE, France (AP) — England should hold no fears for Slovakia. After all Slovakia has recorded a series of victories against other big international teams over the past few years.

Slovakia has already recovered from its opening loss to Wales to beat Russia 2-1 in its second match at the European Championship, so confidence shouldn’t be a problem ahead of its final Group B match against England on Monday at Saint-Etienne.

Playing in its first European Championship as an independent nation since the 1993 split of Czechoslovakia, a point would likely be enough to send Slovakia through to the knockout stages.

“It’s a good thing that we have it in our hands,” Slovakia coach Jan Kozak said. “We have three points but we need more because without a point from the last game, we could hardly advance.”

In recent years, Slovakia has notched up some memorable wins against Italy, Spain and Germany.

At the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Slovakia in its first major international tournament, pulled off one of the competition’s biggest shocks when it eliminated then world champion Italy in a group match. Slovakia needed a victory to advance to the knock out stages, and duly did with a 3-2 win. In the round of 16, it ran the Netherlands, the eventual runner-up, close in a 2-1 defeat.

Slovakia recorded another big win in qualifying for the European Championship when it beat two-time defending champion Spain 2-1 in 2014. That was Spain’s first loss in a qualifier for the European Championship or World Cup since 2006.

And more recently in May in a friendly in the German city of Augsburg, Slovakia beat its host 3-1.

Slovakia will look to its star midfielder Marek Hamsik to deliver another impressive performance against England. Hamsik, who plays for Napoli, scored one and set up one in Slovakia’s victory over Russia.

“We have to get ready well for them,” midfielder Juraj Kucka said from the team’s training base in Vichy. “They will go for a win. It will be tough for us but I hope we’ll succeed.”

Kozak said he will be making changes for the England match. “We will make changes,” Kozak said. “We face a different opponent, different players and different style of play.”

For England, which has four points from its two Group B games, a draw would be enough for automatic qualification to the knockout stages. Slovakia and Wales have three points each, while Russia has one point.

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