Progression to the last 16 was Slovakia’s aim for Euro 2016, but pointers as to how they’d advance beyond the first knockout phase were seemingly omitted from the pre-tournament brief.
The reward for drawing their final Group B match against England, a result which effectively guaranteed them access to the competition’s latter stages and the only one they appeared interested in recording, was a meeting with world champions Germany.
In these challenging circumstances, the reflecting Falcons probably regret the avoid-defeat-at-all-costs attitude they adopted in their last outing, especially when a modicum of attacking intent could have feasibly brought them the three points that would’ve set up a meeting with Iceland.
Given the expansion of the tournament and the fact that three nations advanced from a four-team group, reaching the last 16 isn’t exactly the greatest of achievements – Portugal didn’t win a match to make it as far – and now the end is nigh, can Slovakia, a team who beat Spain and Ukraine in qualifying, seriously consider their Euro 2016 campaign a success?
It’s hard to see how it can be if they don’t beat Germany and to do so, they’ll need to ready their hard-worked rearguard for another onslaught.
Unwanted Liverpool stopper Martin Skrtel put in a Herculean shift against the English and, as the leader of Slovakia’s backline, coach Jan Kozak must’ve begged his bosses to splash out on an oxygen chamber and cotton wool bodysuits to ensure he and his colleagues remain in pristine condition ahead of a second slog at the grindstone in a week.
But personnel aside, resisting the best England’s attack has to offer is one thing, doing the same against Germany is an entirely different matter.
Win, Lose or Draw?
Die Mannschaft were the joint-top points gatherers in the group stage, but by their own lofty standards, they were some way shy of their best.
At the back, they were flawless, with no goals conceded in three outings, though their exploits in the final third left ample room for improvement.
Were it not for an injury-time Bastian Schweinsteiger strike in their opener, their ledger would display two 1-0 wins and a goalless draw from games against Ukraine, Poland and Northern Ireland.
The latter lost by a solitary strike in the final Group C game, though were it not for some wayward shooting, Germany might’ve scored a bagful.
Judging by the sheer volume of chances created against an opponent whose intentions didn’t extend beyond keeping the score as low as possible, Jogi Low’s men are on the verge of dishing out a pounding, as they’ve customarily done at least once in each of their last five major tournament finals appearances.
In the previous World Cup they decimated Brazil 7-1, four years after destroying Argentina 4-0 in South Africa, while they put four past Costa Rica in the 2006 edition on home soil.
As part of their recent attempts at conquering the continent, Euro 2012 saw them beat Greece 4-2 and three were put past Portugal and Turkey in the knockout stages of Euro 2008.
Not only is a Germany-administered walloping overdue, the world champions’ record in these tournaments – they’ve reached the semi-final at least in each of them – provides yet more cause for Slovakian concern.
A modicum of hope for the underdogs comes in the form of their recent 3-1 friendly win against their next foes, but that result was recorded against a German side much-changed from the XI that will take the field in Lille, with only four players who started it in team-sheet contention this time.
Expect that loss to be avenged in the harshest of manners.
Recommended bet: Germany (-2) to beat Slovakia @ 17/5
The abundance of unders encounters has shattered the bookies’ nerve, with prices on fewer than three-goal games ridiculously low across the board.
That, however, has presented those prepared to punt on overs with a real money-making opportunity.
The do-or-die nature of the knockouts will dissolve the need for caginess that was prevalent in the group stages, theoretically increasing the chances of the occasional goalfest.
To add further support to the idea, each of the previous three meetings between these two has seen the net bulge at least three times, while Germany have averaged over two goals a game in their 11 renewals with Slovakia.
Recommended bet: Over 2.5 goals @ 13/10
Who’s Going To Score?
Germany unleashed a barrage of 28 shots in their 1-0 win over Northern Ireland, with Thomas Muller taking no fewer than six of them.
Only two players in the group stage had more touches in the box than his 23, while only seven topped his eight attempts at goal.
The Bayern Munich forward is as overdue a goal as his team are a big win. Back him to get the ball rolling here.
Recommended bet: Muller to score first @ 7/2
In four 21st-century battles between these two countries there have been 15 goals scored.
A staggering 11 of these came before the interval, which equates to an average of 2.75 first-half goals registered across the timeframe in question and diverts value to the half-time correct score market.
Recommended bet: Germany 3-0 Slovakia HT correct score @ 33/2