Slovakia owe their place at Euro 2016 to a blistering start in qualifying that saw them strike decisive blows over their main rivals.
Most observers predicted that Jan Kozak’s side would be joining Ukraine in scrapping for second place behind Spain in their group.
A Robert Mak goal in their opening game against Ukraine in Kiev set them on their way, but even better was to follow as Miroslav Stoch’s 87th-minute effort gave the home side a famous 2-1 victory and ended Spain’s eight-year, 36-match unbeaten qualifying run in Zilina a month later.
Following such a spectacular opening, it was clear Kozak’s squad had a great chance to earn their first European Championship appearance and they enhanced their credentials by winning all of their opening six qualifiers.
A repeat of their back-to-back games against Spain and Ukraine last September seemed likely to define Slovakia’s fate. Defeat to the European champions was not unexpected but a scoreless draw with Ukraine three days later put Slovakia well and truly in the box seat to qualify.
Four points from their final two games would see them through to France but disaster struck as they lost at home to Belarus in their penultimate match.
This meant a winning journey to Luxembourg was all that separated Slovakia from qualifying if Ukraine failed to win against Spain. Leading 3-0 at the interval, they were in cruise control but the minnows pulled two goals back to ensure a nervous finish before Napoli midfielder Marek Hamsik sealed the win and with it qualification.
At 28, Hamsik is the orchestrator in chief for this Slovakia team. He has played his football in Italy since he was a teenager and top-scored for Slovakia in qualifying. His ability to pick holes and create chances in France will be vital if Slovakia are to upset their Group B rivals.
Under The Radar
As their qualifying opposition found out, this Slovakian side are a potentially dangerous opponent.
They begin their Euro 2016 journey against Wales in Bordeaux on June 11. Having been to the World Cup in 2010 and counted Italy among their victims as they advanced to the knockout stage in South Africa, Slovakia will attempt to draw on that experience against a Welsh side taking its bow on the big stage for the first time in 58 years.
Russia await in Lille four days later before Slovakia end their group stage campaign against England in St Etienne on June 20.
Kozak will want to see skipper Martin Skrtel regain fitness and slot into action at Liverpool so he can take his place alongside experienced duo Tomas Hubocan and Peter Pekarik in defence this summer. All three were vital during qualifying.
Hamsik is the primary schemer in midfield but AC Milan’s Juraj Kucka along with Mak are also capable of getting involved, while striker Adam Nemec appears to have put himself in pole position up front with three goals in qualifying.
Goalkeepers: Matúš Kozáčik (Viktoria Plzeň), Ján Mucha (Slovan Bratislava), Ján Novota (Rapid Wien)
Defenders: Peter Pekarík (Hertha Berlin), Milan Škriniar (Sampdoria), Martin Škrtel (Liverpool), Norbert Gyömbér (Roma), Ján Ďurica (Lokomotiv Moskva), Kornel Saláta (Slovan Bratislava), Tomáš Hubočan (Dinamo Moskva), Dušan Švento (Köln)
Midfielders: Marek Hamšík (Napoli), Juraj Kucka (AC Milan), Miroslav Stoch (Bursaspor), Vladimír Weiss (Al-Gharafa), Róbert Mak (PAOK), Patrik Hrošovský (Viktoria Plzeň), Ján Greguš (Jablonec), Viktor Pečovský (Žilina), Stanislav Šesták (Ferencváros), Ondrej Duda (Legia Warszawa)
Forwards: Michal Ďuriš (Viktoria Plzeň), Adam Nemec (Willem II)