Soccer-Slovakia aim to back up Belgium shock, Ukraine seek redemption


  • Football
  • Wednesday, 19 Jun 2024

Soccer Football - Euro 2024 - Group E - Belgium v Slovakia - Frankfurt Arena, Frankfurt, Germany - June 17, 2024 Slovakia's Ivan Schranz reacts after he scores their first goal REUTERS/Lee Smith/File Photo

DUESSELDORF, Germany (Reuters) - Slovakia pulled off the biggest statistical shock in European Championship history when they stunned Belgium in their opening match at Euro 2024 but know there is still work to be done if they are capitalise on their sensational start.

Ivan Schranz's early goal earned Slovakia - 48th in the world rankings - a 1-0 victory over the third-ranked team, the biggest rankings gap ever overcome by an underdog, according to Opta.

It also blew Group E wide open ahead of their clash with Ukraine on Friday in Duesseldorf.

Ukraine, meanwhile, were taken apart in a 3-0 defeat by Romania and will be desperate to make amends.

A fifth successive victory in competitive matches for Francesco Calzona's Slovakia on Friday would guarantee them a place in the last 16 -- equalling their run of 2016.

But midfielder Tomas Suslov, whose father is Ukrainian, warned that they must not get too far ahead of themselves.

"I'll tell the truth, I was surprised by Ukraine's result," he said at a media conference on Tuesday.

"Certainly, we know that three points will not be enough for us. Yesterday we already talked about the fact that we cannot underestimate anything, since we have not yet progressed.

"We don't expect an easier game than in the match against Belgium. If we want to succeed, we will have to do at least the same thing again."

Complacency is unlikely from a vastly-experienced Slovakia team whose starting line-up against Croatia had an average age of 31 with three players -- right back Peter Pekarik, midfielder Juraj Kucka and goalkeeper Martin Dubravka -- over 35.

"It was huge to beat the third country in the world," Dubravka said. "But we are not calculating anything. The next game is vital and we have to prepare for the next opponent."

While Slovakia will be buoyed by their run of good form, Ukraine's hopes of reaching the knockout rounds were dealt a cruel blow as they dominated possession against Romania but managed only two shots on target and were picked off.

Ukraine, however, have not lost consecutive matches since 2020 and they will need to at least keep that run going to ensure they go into their final game against Belgium with hope.

Coach Serhiy Rebrov said before the Romania game that his players were all receiving personal messages from soldiers fighting on the frontline against Russia.

And while his young team failed to rise to the challenge in their opening game, Rebrov expects a reaction against Slovakia from the likes of Mykhailo Mudryk and Oleksandr Zinchenko.

"They know their performance was poor. We represent a great country that has been fighting for its own freedom for two years. They disappointed our fans," he said.

"Against Slovakia, we have to show a completely different Ukraine."

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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