Euro 2024 team guides part 19: Slovakia

<span>Slovakia’s players engulf David Hancko after his first-minute opener against Liechtenstein last September, in which all three of their goals came before the seventh minute.</span><span>Photograph: Radovan Stoklasa/Reuters</span>
Slovakia’s players engulf David Hancko after his first-minute opener against Liechtenstein last September, in which all three of their goals came before the seventh minute.Photograph: Radovan Stoklasa/Reuters

This article is part of the Guardian’s Euro 2024 Experts’ Network, a cooperation between some of the best media organisations from the 24 countries who qualified. is running previews from two countries each day in the run-up to the tournament kicking off on 14 June.


Slovakia fans are sceptical by nature and have a habit of being vociferous when the team is doing well but going missing when results are poor. In recent years supporters have not had much to celebrate after especially bad results in the Nations League (they finished third in their group having lost at home to Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan and drawn with Belarus).

However, when it comes to the Euros they have qualified for their third straight tournament, kicking into gear following the dismissal of the heavily criticised Stefan Tarkovic after some frustrating and lethargic performances in the summer of 2022.

The Slovakian FA decided to appoint a foreign coach. Not only that, it went for someone who had never worked as a head coach before. However, Francesco Calzona could not have been more highly recommended with national team legend Marek Hamsik – who played a record 138 times for his country – throwing his weight behind the Italian, having worked with him at Napoli for many years.

Calzona was Maurizio Sarri’s assistant at the Serie A club but, naturally, the decision raised eyebrows, especially among former Slovakia internationals. However, the 55-year-old has turned Slovakia’s fortunes around. The first thing he did was give the players some much-needed confidence, especially when it came to the system they were playing. Slovakia started to pick up wins – and draws – again and ended qualifying with only two narrow defeats against standout group winners Portugal.

Calzona prefers a kind of 4-3-3 formation – although it can also be seen as a 4-1-4-1 – with a high press from two No 8s (normally Juraj Kucka and Ondrej Duda). He has tried to implement a high-tempo pressing game instead of a park-the-bus attitude seen at previous major tournaments. The full-backs are encouraged to attack.

There is still work to be done, however, to try to win over a never-satisfied public. Regardless of how the Euros go there is a consensus Slovakia need to renew after the tournament. The average age of the starting XI during the qualifying campaign was drifting towards 30, which made them the oldest team of all.


The coach

Francesco Calzona was a long-time collaborator and assistant of Sarri, and has tried to implement “Sarrismo” withSlovakia. That has been his main advantage. Previously profiled as a “defensive expert”, Calzona has introduced some new and interesting attacking patterns and reaching the Euros was a perfect response to all the criticism. “For a so-called assistant, he’s not that bad,” Stanislav Lobotka, Slovakia’s defensive midfielder, said jokingly. In the spring, after the latest upheavals at Napoli, the Slovakian FA agreed that Calzona could take over as interim head coach at the Serie A club at the same time as preparing for the Euros.

The icon

Stanislav Lobotka is another person who had a hard job winning over Slovakia fans (there is a theme here). Three years ago his mere inclusion in the Euros squad was criticised as he was not in his form but now the Napoli midfielder is one of the best players in his position in Serie A. In 2022-23 he played a huge part in Napoli winning only their second Scudetto ever and he is as good at winning possession as creating chances, helping Slovakia break opposition lines. So good has his form been that he has been linked with a move to Barcelona or Real Madrid with his playing style similar to that of Andrés Iniesta. “It’s great to be compared to him but it has led to a lot of expectations and increased the pressure on me,” he says. “I think I’m a different type of player.”

One to watch

At the moment, the 26-year-old defender David Hancko is the team’s most interesting player to watch. He is among the best centre-backs in the Eredivisie, where he helped Arne Slot’s Feyenoord win the league in 2023. Interestingly, for the national team, he is normally used as a left wing-back where he has been very influential when it comes to chance creation. His versatility and ability in defence and attack has led to interest from Premier League clubs. In the past there has been talk of a move to West Ham or Aston Villa, but right now following Slot to Liverpool seems a natural fit.

The maverick

Tomas Suslov has been criticised by Calzona in the past. Suslov is well known for his confidence but it looks like he has taken the feedback on board and could be in contention for a starting place in Germany, especially after Robert Mak - another maverick - was left out of the squad. Suslov has had a good year at Verona after a turbulent exit from Groningen and his technical ability and unpredictability with the ball makes him an interesting choice for Slovakia’s attack. Suslov has even started to track back. He is more consistent now and could become a player who has the capacity to shine on the big stage. The match against Ukraine will be special for him, as he has family there on his father’s side.

The spine

Newcastle’s Martin Dubravka is the undisputed No 1 goalkeeper, putting in reliable performances for the national team even if he has not been a regular at club level. Milan Skriniar leads the defence as a centre-back with the captain’s armband, Kucka fills in the No 8 role alongside Lobotka and is a perfect “box-to-box midfielder” with incredible fitness levels even at the age of 37. Duda bears most of the playmaking responsibilities and is a natural successor to Hamsik, but centre-forward is a problem position. Robert Bozenik seems to be the most likely choice.

Probable starting XI

Celebrity fan

The Slovak rapper, Pil C, is expected to watch his country’s games closely as he is a friend of Duda, and also rapped about Robert Vittek’s famous four goals at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Slovakia’s first appearance at a major tournament. “I’m in form like Robo Vittek at the World Cup,” he rapped in the song One Shot. Slovakia’s successful alpine ski racer, Petra Vlhova, is also a fan.

Culinary delight

When fans come to the stadium to watch a football game, their usual choice is a klobasa (sausage) with ketchup or mustard and a couple of slices of bread, as well as a pint of beer. It’s also the most frequent post-game meal for players in the lower tiers of the Slovakian league.

Slovakia team guide written by Lukas Vrablik for the Guardian Experts’ Network