Tuesday, June 01, 2010

2010 FIFA World Cup: Slovakia

We preview the 2010 FIFA World Cup, set for June 11-July 11 in South Africa.

Appearance: First (nation known as Czechoslovakia appeared last in 1990)
Last time there: First appearance
Best performance: First appearance

For the first-timers from Europe, this is going to be an interesting tournament. They earned their spot, beating out the Czech Republic and Slovenia in their qualifying group.

In the finals, they're paired up with defending champion Italy and intriguing Paraguay, along with heavy underdog New Zealand. Nothing here is terribly daunting, and it's a group that could produce surprises.

Slovakia was consistent in qualifying, taking care of business at home, stealing points on the road, and beating the teams they should beat. They'll be in high form at their first finals, thanks to coach Vladimir Weiss and captain Pavol Hamsik, who is a top midfielder. Expect Hamsik to handle the ball a lot.

Vladimir Weiss, Jr., the coach's son, joins Hamsik in the midfield. He's a bit younger and can give the team some spunk.

The scoring will come primarily from Stanislav Sestak. The forward led Slovakia in goals during qualifying. He's the main guy to stop as you try to defend this team.

There are concerns about their depth, which was never really tested in qualifying because the main-line guys played so well and avoided injuries. If this depth comes into play during group matches, Slovakia could be toast.

Some analysts seem concerned about Slovakia's performance in friendlies. Frankly, it isn't very good, with losses to nations like Cyprus on the list and the record well under .500. What isn't clear is what you can make of this.

We'll see in South Africa.

June 15 vs. New Zealand (Rustenburg)
June 20 vs. Paraguay (Bloemfontein)
June 24 vs. Italy (Johannesburg -- Ellis Park)

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