Soccer-Euphoria over as Slovakia eager to avoid repeat of three years ago


  • Football
  • Thursday, 20 Jun 2024

Soccer Football - Euro 2024 - Group E - Belgium v Slovakia - Frankfurt Arena, Frankfurt, Germany - June 17, 2024 Slovakia's Ivan Schranz celebrates scoring their first goal with teammates REUTERS/Lee Smith

DUESSLEDORF, Germany (Reuters) - Any euphoria after Slovakia's shock victory over Belgium in their Euro 2024 opener was quickly replaced by the stark reality that they have achieved nothing yet, coach Francesco Calzona said on Thursday ahead of their clash with Ukraine.

Slovakia will qualify for the last 16 from Group E if they beat Ukraine in Duesseldorf but they need only rewind three years to remind themselves of how fortunes can change.

At the delayed Euro 2020 tournament, Slovakia began with a victory over Poland but subsequently lost 1-0 to Sweden via a late penalty before a 5-0 hammering at the hands of Spain sent them spinning out of the competition.

Calzone, one of five Italian coaches working at Euro 2024, was asked whether it had been difficult to bring his players down to earth and prepare for Ukraine after the Belgium win.

"That wasn't difficult. We had a bit of euphoria for a few short hours, but we haven't achieved anything yet. We've only secured three points and three points aren't enough to make it through to the knockout stage," he told reporters on Thursday.

"There's not too much to celebrate in terms of that win over Belgium because we still have our objective in front of us, which is to make it through the group."

Attacking midfielder Ondrej Duda was part of the team that was swept aside by a rampant Spain in Seville almost three years to the day and like the rest of the vastly-experienced squad, he is desperate to ensure they escape from the group.

"Of course, it was a bad experience that we had," the 29-year-old said. "You know, sometimes football can be cruel. Sometimes it can be beautiful."

Ukraine enjoyed 66% possession against Romania in their opening match but suffered a 3-0 defeat which leaves them with little margin for error against Slovakia.

"It will be a kind of a final for them," Duda said. "But also for us. For me, every game at the tournament is a final and we are ready 100%."

Calzona noted how Romania were happy to concede possession high up the pitch against Ukraine and counter-attack quickly and does not expect any radical new approach from his opposite number Serhiy Rebrov.

"They've been playing for quite a while in this system," he said. "We have out own identity too and will press ahead regardless of who we are playing. These days, there aren't too many secrets in the world of football."

(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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