Can Germany finally get the better of Italy?

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While his players were enjoying a rare day off on Tuesday, Joachim Low fronted the Press. Top of the agenda was Germany’s ‘Italian curse’. The boss had seen Italy end Spain’s European reign the previous evening, setting up a mouth-watering Quarter-final. It pits the favourites against a team they have never defeated in a major tournament.

Germany have failed to get the better of the Azzurri in eight attempts at a major tournament. Low oversaw the most recent defeat, at the Semi-final stage four years ago. But he wasn’t having any of it. “We have never beaten them in a tournament but we have no Italy trauma. I do not rate the past too much.”

Speaking on German television a day earlier, the boss said this would be a match between two teams who have so far played the best football. Germany have improved as the tournament has progressed. Italy did well to beat Belgium and Spain when they went in as the outsiders.

The German attacking machine, which started to crank against Slovakia, will come up against the Italian wall. But Italy won’t be in Bordeaux just to defend. A vibrant performance against Spain was rewarded with victory. In doing so, they ended a Spanish hoodoo which stretched back to Euro 2008.

They will aim for more of the same, even if Germany won’t have the same ponderous nature about them as Spain. If there’s any attacking unit which will seriously trouble Italy’s fabled BBC it’s this one. Don’t forget, Germany did put four past the Azzurri in a comprehensive friendly victory in March. They are also yet to concede a goal – but so too is Gigi Buffon. At the other end Italy will need to be clinical.

While the World Champions will attempt to overcome their complex, Antonio Conte has issues of his own. Daniele De Rossi went off injured against Spain and replacement Thiago Motta picked up his second booking of the tournament. He will miss the game and the Roma player is in a race against time to be fit. That gives Conte a headache. He could introduce Stefano Sturaro or re-shuffle his pack. Die Mannschaft have no such concerns, even if Low admits he isn’t yet sure how his team will line up.

It’s a Quarter-final worthy of a Final. After finally getting one over the Spanish, can Italy inflict more pain on Germany? Or will Low and his team finally taste victory over the Azzurri in a tournament setting? An intriguing match awaits.

Conte’s tactically perfect Euro 2016 Italian job

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Full of determination, discipline, energy, intelligence, passion and tactical acumen. Italy’s performance throughout their 2-0 win over Spain in the second round of Euro 2016 represented all of the qualities that the Azzuri’s manager Antonio Conte has gradually instilled in the team since taking charge in August 2014.

Prior to the finals Conte was cautiously optimistic and quite reserved about Italy’s prospects of performing well. “We’ll start with our headlights turned off because this is maybe not a good moment for Italian football but, as the tournament goes on, maybe we will light up and shine into other teams’ faces,” Conte revealed in an interview with Paddy Agnew of European Sports Media, during the Azurri’s preparations for Euro 2016.

Subsequently Italy’s campaign is currently evolving as Conte suggested it might, with the manager compensating for the lack of individual talent within his squad by building a tactically masterful team who are able to control a game’s dynamics and tempo, so it is played out in a way with which they are comfortable.

Conte’s approach to achieving that against Spain was to remain loyal to his favoured energetic 3-5-2 formation, within which full-backs Mattia De Sciglio and Alessandro Florenzi played a vital role. Specifically the majority of the Azzuri’s attacks featured a quick pass being played out to either of the wing-backs, who then exploited Spain’s narrow 4-3-3 formation to surge down the flanks, before delivering quality crosses into La Roja’s box.

Also instrumental in the perfect execution of Conte’s master plan by licensing De Sciglio and Florenzi to attack, was the unwavering defensive solidarity of the Juventus quartet of Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci & Giorgio Chiellini, with the 31-year-old centre half scoring the Azzuri’s first goal.

Thereafter on the astute instruction of Conte, Italy reverted to a 5-3-2 formation and comfortably defended their lead throughout the second half, whilst also launching several dangerous counter attacks, the last of which resulted in a second goal.

After nullifying another futile Spanish attack, Italy quickly broke out of defence, as Matteo Darmian – on as a replacement for Florenzi – found space on the right flank before measuring a fine cross to Graziano Pelle, which the Southampton striker finished emphatically. That goal was thoroughly deserved and capped a tactically superb Italian performance, which earned the highest of praise of Conte.

“It was a great performance. I am pleased this’ a team that plays football. We are very organised defensively, but equally going forward. Often people just think that Italy are a defensive side, but that is not the case,” declared Conte, who will now prepare his side to play world champions Germany in the last 8.

The game represents a repeat of the Euro 2012 semi-final between the two countries, which Italy won 2-1 in Warsaw courtesy of a wonderful double from Mario Balotelli.

Given the strength of Joachim Low’s German side, in order to overcome them, the Azzuri will require to produce a performance similar, if not higher, in quality than the one which they delivered to beat Spain, as recognised by Conte himself.

“We need the players to be 130 per cent against Germany. We will need something absolutely extraordinary, as simply extraordinary may not be enough”, remarked Conte, who learnt from Italy’s 4-1 friendly defeat to Germany back in March that playing a 3-4-3 formation against such strong opposition left his team too exposed defensively.

As such it was on the basis of that experience that Conte reverted to the more cautious 3-5-2 formation, with that system being the one which is most conducive to allowing the Italian players to energetically, intelligently and passionately express themselves, as proven by their performance against Spain.

Wales have the ability to beat Belgium

On Friday, July 1, Wales will have a meeting with football history. Gareth Bale and his team-mates take on Belgium in the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, and have a serious chance of advancing to the last four.

The European Championships in France are just Wales’ second international tournament. The previous one was the 1958 World Cup, where they made it to the quarter-finals by finishing second in their group behind Sweden. The Dragons went on to lose to Brazil in Gothenburg due to the first World Cup goal by the famous Pele, just after the hour mark.

Belgium’s Golden Generation with the likes of Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Axel Witsel, Radja Nainggolan and Romelu Lukaku could make Wales suffer the same faith in Lille on Friday. However, Wales have been somewhat of a “black beast” for the Red Devils in recent history.

Both national teams faced each other in the qualification fases for the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016. Belgium were able to beat Wales only once, a 2-0 win at the Millennium Stadium on September 7, 2012, with goals from Vincent Kompany and Jan Vertonghen, while James Collins received a red card in the 26th minute.

Since then, Wales were able to pick up two draws and one win. The encounter ended 1-1 in Brussels on October 15, 2013, with a late goal by Aaron Ramsey and the Dragons playing without Bale. The same fixture ended 0-0 on November 16, 2014, despite both teams creating some solid chances to score.

But the definite game that Belgium and Wales fans will remember, is the Dragons’ 1-0 win on June 12, 2015, in Cardiff. Bale scored the games’ only goal after a poor Nainggolan header. It sent Wales three points clear at the top of their qualification group with four games remaining.

Despite Belgium winning Group B in the end, with Wales finishing second, and the Red Devils not conceding a goal in their last three Euro 2016 games (while scoring eight), the Dragons clearly have all the weapons needed to beat them.

Wales play a 5-3-2 formation, which offensively becomes a 3-5-2 one. This is the same lineup that caused Belgium so much trouble against Italy in their tournament opener, a game they lost 2-0. The Dragons are able to pack the middle, while defensively securing both wings, Belgium’s most dangerous offensive threats in their 4-2-3-1 formation.

If Wales are able to outrun the Belgians, which Italy did, while holding their ground defensively by not giving Belgium a chance to find space deep on the wings, they should be able to create deadly counter attacks through Bale and Ramsey. They won’t score twice against this Belgium team, but a 1-0 triumph is something Wales should dream about and aim for.

Euro 2016 signals the end of an era for Spain

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One of the biggest differences between International football and club football is that with the money being around today the big football clubs rarely stop winning. But for Internationals it doesn’t and can’t work that way, it’s who you are that determines where you end up playing. And in short that’s why clubs like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich or Chelsea may go a season or two without winning a trophy but it won’t be as everlasting as a great international teams demise.

That team in question are Spain undoubtedly the best footballing nation of the last decade. In four glorious years between 2008 and 2012 they won two European Championships, back to back and in between their first World Cup. What made the wins extra special was that we could never doubt their legitimacy- they were quite simply the best side at each of their tournaments. They recorded wins over nations that try as they might always used to beat them, Germany and Italy being two prime examples. In the 2012 European Championship final they didn’t just beat Italy but they humiliated one of the great nations that pride themselves on defence with a deserved 4-0 hammering. Some wondered just how long their dominance could last- could they for example add another World Cup and become just the third team in history to win it back to back?

Well the answer was emphatically no- at the Brazilian World Cup in 2014 they lost their grip on a major tournament for the first time since 2006 when they crashed out of the group stages. That of course was a shock in itself- but it was the way they lost, 5-1 against Holland and then 2-0 against Chile, they had conceded 7 goals in two games and headed one of the most fearsome lists that no one wants as one of the worst defending champions.

After the World Cup 2014 Del Bosque handed his resignation in but it was ignored by the Spanish federation and he continued on to Euro 2016. Here in the knock out round of 16 Spain were humbled by the old guard Italy 2-0. Old guard because Italy had haunted the Spanish for so long, and now after Spain seemingly over coming their mental block to one of the European greats it was back again- everything was.

For the first time on Monday evening the feeling was there for anyone to witness – we could have been watching any Spanish performance from the 1980s or 90s, a side packed with talented players but play that lingered on frustration. They were in short easily found out.

Something within the side has stalled and it’s not just the fact that star players such as Andreas Iniesta are getting and looking old. The old thought process seems to have returned and for the first time in a long time possession was not held, in the end it was almost 50-50. Del Bosque was quick to point out that the cycle was not over- but why then was he even mentioning it after the game? All could see that sadly Spain’s dismantling at the Euro’s was 90 minutes of underlined evidence that their era had ended.

 

Veterans pivotal as Italy eliminates Spain

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Some, like Matteo Darmian, remember watching it on television. Others had to live it. The worst defeat in European Championship Final history. Italy, so good to get there, had little left against an utterly devastating Spain. Factor in Italy going down to 10 because of injury and the 4-0 score was almost inevitable.

Gianluigi Buffon was there that day. Giorgio Chiellini too. Buffon had to pick the ball out of the net four times, while Chiellini hobbled off after only 20 minutes. It was yet another disappointment handed out by the Spanish – four years after Italy had lost on penalties – and wouldn’t be the last. Buffon and Chiellini played in all three defeats. They had felt the heartache. The defender admitted Spain had become Italy’s bogey team, after the ledger for so long was blue. Yesterday, they exacted a piece of revenge.

“After many years of defeats to Spain, we made up for it. OK, it was only a Round of 16 tie, but it’s better than nothing!” Buffon howled in excitement, as his team had just broken the curse. Both he and Chiellini were pivotal.

It was the Juventus defender who opened the scoring. Following a thoroughly impressive opening half-hour, Italy got their reward. Chiellini followed up as Eder’s free kick was only partially saved by David de Gea. He shinned it in. No matter, Italy were ahead. It was their just desserts, the Spanish unable to play with the sort of fluency associated with the team. Chiellini – and his defensive cohorts Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci – played a big role in that too. They kept Spain’s front three occupied. The rest stifled their central creativity. But Italy were also decisively effective in possession and gave the Spanish defenders constant headaches.

It meant Buffon had a relatively quiet first half. But when called upon after the interval the captain stood firm. Spain gradually enjoyed greater territorial dominance. Chiellini and co. did well in stopping the majority. They were committed, strong and smart.

When Spain did break through, Buffon was the final brick in the wall. He saved from Alvaro Morata and Andres Iniesta. Then in the dying embers the captain came up with a big save from Gerard Pique. It proved crucial, as Italy sealed victory through Graziano Pelle in injury time.

It was a triumph for the collective. This united Azzurri now meets Germany, but will be undaunted as they were here. Thanks in part to two veterans of years of pain from Spain, Italy have shaken the Spanish monkey off their back.

England’s Euro 2016 put on ice as Roy Hodgson quits

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England crashed out of Euro 2016 to Iceland in what has been seen as one of the biggest shocks in a major tournament. England were embarrassed when they lost 2-1 and came up with scant ideas to reduce the deficit. Moments after the game England manager Roy Hodgson resigned after being in the managers hot seat for four years.

For Iceland this was by far their greatest victory in their history- they had never made it to a major competition before and now their reward is a quarter final date this Sunday with hosts France.

The game had started at a frantic pace with England taking a fourth minute lead after Raheem Sterling was adjudged to have been fouled in the box by Iceland’s goalkeeper. Replays showed that the ball was nowhere near the player and on reflection this seemed like a harsh choice on the Icelanders. Wayne Rooney who may well have played his final game for England took the penalty as he rolled back the years and directed his shot magnificently. It would be the only bright spark of Rooney and England’s night.

But just when things seemed to be going England’s way Iceland struck back for an equaliser just two minutes later when Ragnar Sigurddson ran past into the area and unmarked sliced the ball past a hapless Joe Hart. Twelve minutes later and Iceland from being a goal behind were now in front when Sigthorsson after what seemed an eternity of passes on the edge of the England area aimed to shoot and the ball trickled over the line from what was in reality a poor shot. Was Hart blinded?

From then on in much of the possession was as one would think with England but chances were only half hearted and England will think that they rarely tested the Iceland goalkeeper and the back four. Indeed if any team was to get another goal it felt like it would go to Iceland who had at least four golden opportunities to increase their lead.

This was a magnificent result for Iceland- but it wasn’t a magnificent game by them. What had happened in stark reality was that they were playing a team in England who were just that much poorer than them. The result is heightened of course given how ‘good’ England should have been with all the players professional experience. This match had to rank as one of England’s worse defeats even if Iceland have had a good 12 months worth of results. One must remember that a nation that holds over 60 million people just lost to one that has 330,000.

 

 

 

 

Euro 2016 Hazard lies in wait for Wales

Belgium’s golden generation produced an extremely polished performance to beat Hungary 4-0 and breeze into the quarter finals of Euro 2016, where they will play Wales.

Inspired by the brilliance of Eden Hazard who set-up one goal and scored another in the space of two second half minutes, Belgium delivered their most impressive display of the tournament, despite being wasteful in front of goal.

After Toby Alderweireld headed Belgium ahead from Kevin De Bruyne’s free kick, the game swung from end-to-end and remained evenly poised until the 78th minute when Michy Batshuayi scored a simple tap-in following fine work by Hazard. The Chelsea winger then scored a superb solo goal of his own, before Yannick Carrasco drilled home a fourth Belgian goal after Radja Nainggolan found the Atletico Madrid attacker with a fine through ball.

Rising to the Euro 2016 Challenge

Although in the end Belgium ran out convincing winners, in order to do so they had to resist a significant amount of sustained pressure from the Hungarians in the second half. That showed as well as being a potent attacking force, Les Diables Rouges are also defensively solid.

Also indicative of that is since losing their opening game 2-0 to Italy, Belgium have kept three consecutive clean sheets, scoring eight goals without reply in the process. Prior to beating Hungary Marc Wilmots’ side defeated the Republic of Ireland and Sweden 3-0 and 1-0 respectively.

Golden Generation beginning to shine

Therefore Belgium’s golden generation appear to be on the verge of fulfilling their potential at a major international tournament, particularly given the brilliant form of the mercurially talented Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne. The duo were instrumental during the victory over Hungary and were at the heart of many of the devastatingly swift counter attacks which Belgium launched throughout the game. In addition to that both players worked tirelessly, in particular De Bruyne, with Wilmots acknowledging as much of a player who spent ten weeks out injured at the start of this year.

“I have to say, Kevin De Bruyne every time he lost the ball he made the effort to come back and that’s what makes the side strong. When we don’t have the ball, we don’t give away many chances,” said Wilmots who will now prepare his team to face Wales in Lille on Friday.

Wales worthy quarter final opponents

Whilst Belgium’s performance against Hungary was very impressive, Wales produced a similarly excellent counter attacking and defensively sound display to beat Russia 3-0 in their last group stage game which served notice that Chris Coleman’s side are serious contenders to progress to the latter stages of Euro 2016.

Nevertheless a serious hazard stands in Wales’ way of doing that in the form of Eden and his golden generation Belgian colleagues, with the teams having played one another twice during qualification for the finals.

The first of those games finished 0-0 in Brussels, whilst Wales won the return fixture 1-0 at the Cardiff City Stadium courtesy of an expertly taken Gareth Bale goal, which sent the Dragons three points clear at the top of qualification Group B with four games remaining. Despite that Belgium overhauled that deficit to win the group, whilst Wales finished runners-up to qualify for Euro 2016, which they have so far played superbly at.
Although Bale has been instrumental in Wales’ run to the quarter finals – becoming the first player to score in each group stage game since Milan Baros & Ruud Van Nistlerooy did so at Euro 2004, whilst also setting-up his team’s goal in their 1-0 last 16 win over Northern Ireland – that achievement has been founded upon a cohesive, organised and spirited team effort, led by captain Ashley Williams.

Williams and Wales ready to rumble

The Welsh skipper is expected to be fit to face Belgium, despite suffering a shoulder injury against Northern Ireland. Immense throughout that game was Williams’ central defensive partner James Chester, with the pair having defended immaculately throughout the finals.

Ultimately the domineering centre back duo along with the entire Welsh team will undergo their toughest test of the tournament yet when they face Belgium in what is set to be an intriguing encounter between two extremely enterprising and talented sides.

Italy out to end Spanish hoodoo

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It used to be that Italy was Spain’s bogey team. The Italians were the ultimate tournament team, getting it done when it mattered most. Spain could not. Meetings between the two went only one way. That has now been reversed.

Giorgio Chiellini admitted as much on Friday when he called the reigning champions Italy’s bogey team. Since getting over their Italian complex in the Quarter-final shootout success at Euro 2008 the Spanish have had the wood over Italy. The sides drew 1-1 in the Euro 2012 group stage, before La Furia Roja smashed the Azzurri 4-0 in the Final. Spain edged past Cesare Prandelli’s team a year later, this time on penalties in the Confederations Cup.

Still, Gianluigi Buffon thinks they have been the only side to give dominant Spain a run for their money: “I am convinced the only side that truly made them suffer in that time was Italy.”

Now Azzurri fans are wondering if in 2016 they can end the Spanish hoodoo. It wasn’t the draw either side wanted. Vicente del Bosque knows Spain have to get past what has been a rock-solid defence. Meanwhile, Italy could hardly believe their luck. Topping a group at a major tournament for the first time in 16 years was rewarded with a meeting against a rejuvenated Spain.

There’s an intriguing subplot too. Alvaro Morata has recently rejoined Real Madrid from Juventus. His former teammates will be the wall hoping to suppress a red tide. There have been complimentary words in the build-up and even friendly warnings. “I did speak to my ex-Juventus teammates and they suggested I wear a helmet if I play!”

Spanish legend Xavi admitted they can struggle against a back three. But Antonio Conte knows it’s not about stopping one player or about three of his. Italy must do what they did in the opening two matches. They went in against Belgium as underdogs but pleasantly surprised with and without the ball. They will need to defend with heart and smarts, but cannot cede total control to Spain. Doing that only invites pressure.

The boss is without the injured Antonio Candreva, who has enjoyed a good tournament to date. One of Italy’s creative outlets, it puts pressure on expected replacement Alessandro Florenzi to do the same. And on the attack, who will be important in possession and in becoming the first line of defence.

Conte says he and his team are not ready to go home. But to end the hoodoo they must be at their absolute best.

Chile win Copa America as Messi announces retirement

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It was deja vu as Chile beat Argentina again in a Copa America final on penalties but an even bigger story emerged after the game when Lionel Messi announced his retirement from international football.

The final was an exciting one as both teams went head to head, Chile were looking to win back to back Copa America’s as they were champions from 2015 and Argentina were looking to win their first major tournament since 1993. Messi the greatest player of a generation was supposed to make that difference but his team could not find a goal and after extra time the score was locked at 0-0.

And so to penalties and Messi who had been one of the players of the tournament incredibly missed his penalty as Chile belted in their remaining ones and became champions once again after Biglia missed another.

Credit had to be given to Chile who came under pressure but also went toe to toe with Argentina. They had more possession and more completed passes and had 2 shots on goal. But Argentina only had one more and it seemed on reflection that the favourites did not dominate a final that they were supposed to.

Moments after Chile celebrated an unexpected win even though they were the champions Messi was interviewed and that is when he gave his huge bombshell. Messi said: “It’s tough, it’s not the time for analysis, In the dressing room I thought that this is the end for me with the national team, it’s not for me. That’s the way I feel right now, it’s a huge sadness once again and I missed the penalty that was so important. I tried so hard to be a champion with Argentina. But it didn’t happen. I couldn’t do it. I think it’s best for everyone, for me and for many people who want it. The choice for me is over, it is a decision. I tried many times.

Gerardo Martino the Argentina coach reflected: “The burden of the consecutive games [lost] has been accumulating these last two years. He feels like you would expect a player to feel after playing and losing a final.”

The question that the world’s media are now asking is was Messi’s retirement speech just said in the heat of the moment? At 29 and with a World Cup just two years away it would seem odd for the world’s best player not to participate and change his mind. Only time will tell, but for now Argentina are still seeking their first trophy in a generation.

Slovakia to pose tough Euro 2016 test for Germany

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A game against the World Champions Germany presents a daunting prospect for any team but rather than fearing that, Slovakia are ready to embrace the challenge in an attempt to prolong their Euro 2016 campaign.

After losing their opening game 2-1 against Wales, Jan Kozak’s side greatly improved their form to beat Russia by the same score line, before drawing 0-0 with England, to progress to the last 16 by virtue of being the best 3rd place team.

There was much to admire about the manner in which Slovakia performed during the group stage, particularly in terms of the defensive solidarity they showed against England to secure the point they required to reach the knock-out stages.

Whilst Slovakia’s experienced back four of Jan Durica, Tomas Hubocan, Peter Pekarik, Martin Skrtel, who have over 250 international caps between them were vital in resisting England’s best efforts to score, Jan Kozak’s side defended brilliantly as a team and should they do so again, will pose a formidable barrier for Germany to break down.

That barrier is reinforced by the extremely reliable holding midfield duo of Viktor Pecovsky & Juraj Kucka, who as well as shielding the team’s stable back four, also provide an excellent springboard from which Slovakia launch attacks. Spearheading those attacks is the team’s captain Marek Hamsik, who is widely regarded as one of the best box – to – box midfielders in Europe, a reputation which he strengthened with his all action displays during the group stages.

Despite being well marshalled by England’s Jordan Henderson in the team’s goalless draw, Hamsik produced a man of the match performance in Slovakia’s 2-1 win over Russia, when he scored one goal and set-up the other for Vladimir Weiss.

After receiving a precise pass from Hamsik, Weiss who plays for Qatari side Al Gharafa, effortlessly drifted past two Russian defenders before slotting the ball home to become the first player from a non-European club to score a goal in the European Championship. Whilst Weiss works tirelessly up and down the left wing for Slovakia, on the opposite side of the pitch, Robert Mak does a similarly effective job. Both players, who played together as teenagers in Manchester City’s Youth Academy, use their pace to protect the team’s full back’s and torment opposition defenders.

As such Slovakia’s well balanced attacking midfield trio work cohesively to support the team’s lone striker, a role which Adam Nemec had assumed from the country’s record goal-scorer Robert Vittek at the start of the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign. During that, Nemec scored three goals but despite that the Willem II striker has struggled for form at Euro 2016 and lost his place in the starting XI to Ondrej Duda, who scored in Slovakia’s 2-1 defeat to Wales. The Legia Warsaw attacking midfielder’s enthusiasm and effervescence make him a handful for opposition defences.

Although aside from Hamsik, Slovakia have no outstanding individual players, Jan Kozak’s side are a well drilled team with an excellent spirit. That was evident when they beat Germany 3-1 in a pre-finals friendly, with their strong performance in that prompting the World Champions manager Joachim Low‘s to give the following assessment of Slovakia prior to the team‘s last 16 encounter.

“They control the space well, are very strong in challenges and they can break with three or four quick players. They will challenge us, since they work defensively very well, we will not get many chances,” said Low, who will be without captain Bastien Schweinsteiger and has concerns over the fitness of Jerome Boateng. Otherwise the 56-year-old manager has a fully fit squad to choose from but the same cannot be said for his counterpart Kozak.

Tomas Hubocan, Dusan Vento and Robert Mark have all been ruled out the game. Nevertheless there are still 9 players (Jan Mucha, Martin Skrtel, Jan Durica, Peter Pekarik, Juraj Kuka, Marik Hamsek, Stanislav Stestak, Miroslav Stoch and Robert Vittek) in Slovakia’s squad who played in the 2010 World Cup.

As such given that experience, combined with their recent win over Germany and strong showing during the group stages, Slovakia will pose a tough test of Joachim Low’s side’s European Championship winning credentials.