Fifa World Ranking: 34
Making their debut as an independent nation in this year's World Cup Finals are Slovakia. We say independent because the Slovaks were an integral part of the then European heavyweights Czechoslovakia. But after the dissolution the Slovaks have failed repeatedly to make their mark internationally. Since gaining independence in 1993 Slovakia tried to qualify for the World Cup on four occasions but have narrowly missed twice (1998 and 2002). This being their first appearance in the World Cup they are considered as the newbies. However their strong performance in the qualifiers have made them a team to be reckoned with. They clinched the no. 1 spot in their qualifying group registering impressive victories over the Northern Ireland, Poland, San Marino and their arch rivals Czech Republic.
Slovakia is managed by Vladimir Weiss who played 19 times for Czechoslovakia and 12 times for Slovakia. At the age of 45 he will be the youngest coach among all 32 coaches in South Africa. Weiss engineered a resounding qualifying campaign for Slovakia by churning out important victories against their old foes Czech Republic, a country in whose sporting shadows they have lived since the separation. He has configured his team around a core of talented young players, most notably the 22-year-old playmaker Marek Hamsik and Chelsea's Miroslav Stoch (loaned to FC Twente) who enjoyed title-clinching season with Dutch side.
Dusan Kuciak, Jan Mucha, Dusan Pernis
Peter Pekarik, Martin Skrtel, Marek Cech, Jan Durica, Martin Petras, Radoslav Zabavnik
Juraj Kucka, Kamil Kopunek, Vladimir Weiss, Miroslav Stoch, Marek Hamsik, Jan Kozak
Erik Jendrisek, Stanislav Sestak, Robert Vittek
Man To Watch
The 22 year old Marek Hamik has long been touted as one of the best prodigies in Europe. He plays for the Italian side Napoli where he twice finished as the side's top scorer. Adjudged as the best Young Slovak Footballer twice, his talent has fast been noticed by European heavyweights like Manchester City and Chelsea. His 12 goals this season have been instrumental in Napoli finishing 6th (one above Juventus) and also securing the Europa League qualification. If Slovakia are to qualify for the round of 16, Hamsik's role will be pivotal.
Slovakia are placed in group F with reigning champions Italy, Paraguay and New Zealand. A very open group we think. Slovakia have enough quality in their squad to overcome the Kiwis and Paraguay if not the Italians. Round of 16 looks a very achievable target.