Slovak boss using Dublin date to get a hint of 'British'
On the centenary of Ireland's first blow towards independence, the men from Slovakia come to Dublin tonight hoping to see more than a hint of the British way of life.
The Slovaks face England and Wales in their group at Euro 2016 so they have chosen their friendly opponents in the lead-up to the finals with care, Slovakia playing the Republic of Ireland tonight and Northrn Ireland in June.
They come with a culturally diverse side - their starting XI for tonight's game draws on players from clubs in eight different countries, including their big names Martin Skrtel (Liverpool) and Marek Hamsik (Napoli) but for their coach, Jan Kozak, the clash with Ireland in Dublin is all about learning ahead of those important dates in June.
It's a learning process for others too, with Chris Coleman planning to attend the game in Dubin this evening.
"They have similar styles of playing, they play a similar way and we have another match, against Northern Ireland, so we want to try these teams before the finals," Kozak said before last night's training session in Lansdowne Road.
He was impressed with England's progress to the finals but, as the English media again hype up their side as potential winners of Euro 2016, he's not too keen to talk them up.
"There is a difference between qualification and the championships," Kozak said.
The coach and his players were under fire from the media in Slovakia for a dull 0-0 draw at home to Latvia last Friday. With that in mind and also dealing with an injury situation, he has made eight changes to his XI for the game tonight, though crucially, Napoli talisman Hamsik will start.
The Slovaks were good in qualification and have been solid in friendly games since then, before that poor draw at home to the Latvians, but morale is high back home and a large away support is expected tonight.
"We know we have a lot of our people in Ireland, they are looking forward to seeing us and we are looking forward to seeing them, hopefully we can give them something to be proud of," he said.
Slovakia retain a chunk of the squad which played, and remained undefeated, against Ireland in the Euro 2012 qualifiers, though Jan Durica, the last Slovak to score against Ireland, will not start tonight.
Their squad also contains some old stagers, with ex-Everton keeper Jan Mucha and striker Robert Vittek (both 33) in the squad this evening. Vittek, with 23 goals from his 83 caps, is their best bet for a goal and he likes playing in Dublin: last summer he came here to play UCD with Slovan Bratislava in the Europa League and scored a hat-trick in a 5-1 win.
SLOVAKIA TEAM: Kozacik (Plzen); Svento (Koln), Salata (Slovan Bratislava), Skrtel (Liverpool), Pekarik (Hertha Berlin); Stoch (Bursaspor), Gregus (Baumit Jablonec), Sabo (PAOK), Sestak (Ferencvaros); Hamsik (Napoli), Vittek (Slovan Bratislava).