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Slovak midfield will be too strong for Irish says Nemeth

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Szilard Nemeth

Szilard Nemeth

Szilard Nemeth

News about Stephen Kenny's attempt to revolutionise the way Ireland's national team play has not really reached Slovakia's ears.

All week, when asked about what threat the Irish pose to the home side in Bratislava tonight, current and former players from Slovakia's national side have reached into the Big Book Of Football Cliches: aggressive play, British style, high balls, physical battles.

Marek Hamsik, their most-capped player, took the obvious route and, when asked what word he associates with Ireland, answered "Guinness beer".

Former Slovakian international Szilard Nemeth has a better first-hand understanding of the Irish mindset, and Irish players, than most.

He had five seasons with Middlesbrough (2001-06), all in the Premier League, where he scored 23 goals in 117 games. Of the 17 Slovaks to appear in the Premier League, only Liverpool's Martin Skrtel played more league matches.

He recalls battles with Irish players then - like Damien Duff, Robbie and Roy Keane, Shay Given and John O'Shea - but is not so bowled over by the current crop.

"Honestly? No," Nemeth says when asked if he knows any of this Ireland squad. "You had some really good players when I was in the Premier League, I'd have gone up against people like John O'Shea and Richard Dunne, good defenders."

Now 43 and coaching with Slovakia's champions, Slovan Bratislava, Nemeth is still a student of the game and while he's hazy on details, he has at least heard that Ireland in 2020 want to play a different way. But he also feels that will play into Slovakian hands.

"Ireland coming here to play football will be better for us, our defenders are not used to playing against a long ball team, so it suits us when our opponent tries to play football."

"We have players like Stanislav Lobotka, Patrik Hrosovsky and Juraj Kucka in the middle of the park, if it's a game of football we will win.

"I think our technique will be better. We are stronger at home, we know how to play that combination football and it should be good enough to win and qualify for the play-off final. If we keep the ball in midfield, we can win.

"Kucka is not young, he's 33 but he has been a very good player in the Italian league and even if he's not 100 per cent he still has quality. He plays in the No 8 position for us, he goes from box to box and despite his age he's still very important."

He admits there are concerns for the squad. "Hamsik is a legendary player but he's 33 now and playing in China, so you don't know the standard he plays at," says Nemeth.

"He has lots of experience from Italian football, which can count for us.

"Losing our goalkeeper, Martin Dubravka, was not ideal for us but we still have a very good goalkeeper, whether that is Dominik Greif, who plays at my club, Slovan, or Marek Rodak, it's not a big problem.

"One player I like, who Ireland might not know about, is our midfielder Patrik Hrosovsky, who plays for Genk in Belgium. He plays in that No 6 role, he is very talented, he played really well in the Nations League games last month and with the doubt over Lobotka, he could be even more important.

In his time with Slovakia (1997-2006), Nemeth was a handy man for a goal, scoring 22 times in his 58 caps, a stat they could do with now as the three strikers in the current Slovakia squad have just five international goals between them.

"It's hard to score at international level now, a lot of games are 1-0 or 0-0, but we have good young guys up front like Robert Bozenik. But the team we had in the World Cup or in the Euros in 2016 was a bit better than this team," he says.

"We had people like Skrtel and Hamsik who were at top clubs but in the last two years we have changed, brought in a new generation and we don't have as many experienced players now. They need time. But I feel they can qualify."