Germany and Slovakia meet in a round of 16 clash that promises to have much more at stake than the 3-1 victory for the Slovaks in the pre-tournament friendly when the two sides met earlier.
Germany solved their right back and striker problems against Northern Ireland – at least temporarily – but now sweat over the fitness of defensive lynchpin Jerome Boateng. Slovakia prefer being the reactive underdog in games and will relish the opportunity to withstand German attacks and launch Hamsik-led counters. However, Slovakia’s overreliance on Hamsik makes it easy for Germany to play around him and shut him out of the game, something Jan Kozak’s men will be wary of.
Team News & Tactics
Germany’s 1-0 win over Northern Ireland would have elicited mixed emotions for Joachim Low. On the plus side, Germany played their best football of the tournament so far, the selections of Mario Gomez and Joshua Kimmich paying off as Thomas Muller also came into his own.
However, they still couldn’t find the famed German efficiency in front of goal, creating a hatful of chances but having to be content with a solitary Gomez strike in the 30th minute.
Kimmich was more at home on the flanks than Howedes had been in Germany’s opening two games, the out-of-position central defender seeming especially vulnerable against Ukraine’s quick wingers. With Robert Mak and Vladimir Weiss likely to start on the wings for Slovakia, Kimmich should definitely reprise the right back role.
His pace will act both as a tool to keep opposition wingers hemmed into their halves and as a failsafe while rushing back to defend from counters.
Mario Gomez may be ageing, but his selection and performance against Northern Ireland was a ringing endorsement of having a target man up front. Adept at receiving the ball with back to goal, Gomez linked up well with Arsenal play-maker Ozil, Muller, Goetze, and Kroos, acting as the lightning rod around which quick German bolts were fired at the opposition.
Apart from his opportunistic finish, Gomez missed at least a couple of easy chances to extend his and Germany’s goal tally. With Slovakia boasting a fearsome central defensive pairing of Liverpool defender Skrtel and Durica, Low would be wise to call upon Gomez to do battle again.
Where two doors opened for the world champions, one seems to be teetering on the edge of closure as Jerome Boateng picked up a calf injury against Northern Ireland. Arguably Germany’s player of the tournament so far, Boateng’s goal line clearance against Ukraine will especially live long in the memory. He didn’t train with the team on Friday, with Low poised to make a very late decision regarding his inclusion.
Die Mannschaft are known as a ‘tournament team’, often flattering to deceive in the lead up to competitions but turning on the style once the occasion merits it. They will hope to live up to that billing now that the knock-out stages have arrived.
Predicted Starting XI (4-4-1-1): Neuer, Kimmich, Hummels, Boateng, Hector, Khedira, Kroos, Goetze, Muller, Ozil, Gomez
Slovakia’s trump card has always been that they are difficult to beat, something they used to good effect in the 0-0 draw against England. That result coupled with a victory over hapless Russia was enough to see them through to the knockouts. Strangely, Slovakia
Strangely, Slovakia tend to perform better against teams which come at them and force them to absorb pressure. Wales, another team that sits back and counters quickly, wasn’t the right opponent for the way Kozak has set his team up, and it showed in the 2-1 defeat.
Slovakia have a compact squad, and most of the starting eleven picks itself. Skrtel, Durica, and Pekarik have been constant in defense ahead of Kozacik in goal. Tomas Hubocan is likely to start at left-back; the Dynamo Moscow player has started the last two games after Dusan Svento covered for him against Wales. Although Slovakia
Although Slovakia have started indifferently in defense in France, they conceded just eight goals in qualifying and seem to be returning to those levels of comfort and discipline if the clean sheet against England was any indication.
In midfield, the hard-working duo of Kucka and Pecovsky will provide the base for Marek Hamsik in his free role behind the frontline. The 28-year-old Napoli star is the pulse of this Slovakia team, with everything good either going through him or the quick feet on the wings of Weiss and Mak. Hamsik’s delicious curling effort against Russia was a timely reminder of his talents and danger from distance. If Germany’s midfielders get caught forward and Hamsik gets the ball at feet in front of the opposition defense, he can wreak havoc.
Hamsik’s delicious curling effort against Russia was a timely reminder of his talents and danger from distance. If Germany’s midfielders get caught forward and Hamsik gets the ball at feet in front of the opposition defense, he can wreak havoc.
Predicted Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Kuzacik, Hubocan, Durica, Skrtel, Pekarik, Kucka, Pecovsky, Hamsik, Weiss, Mak, Duda
Stats & Facts
- Marek Hamsik was Slovakia’s top scorer in the Euro qualifiers with five goals
- Slovakia have beaten Spain and Germany in the past two years, the former in a Euro qualifier
- Slovakia conceded just eight goals in their qualifying campaign
- Germany have an average possession rate of 65% in the Euros so far
- Germany have a passing accuracy of 91% in the Euros so far
Final Prediction: Germany 2-1 Slovakia
Marek Hamsik and Slovakia’s quick wingers can create goals from nothing, and if they open the scoring then their defensive discipline can make matters very tough for Germany. But Joachim Low’s world champions played some great football against Northern Ireland, and their propensity to rise to big occasions means that the safe money is on them continuing their Euro journey. Kimmich and Hector will be key in both defense and attack, and Gomez will be looking to be the totem pole up front round which the German midfielders can rally.