Russia- Akinfeev, Smolnikov, V.Berezutski, Ignashevich, Schennikov, Golovin, Neustader, Kokorin, Shatov, Smolov, Dzubya
Slovakia- Kozacik, Pekarik, Skrtel, Durica, Hubocan, Kucka, Pecovsky, Mak, Hamsik, Weiss, Duda
All eyes have been on Lille this week, however, for all the wrong reasons. In the week, it was revealed that UEFA had handed a suspended disqualification from the tournament, meaning that if the Russian fans cause any more trouble inside any stadium the team will be thrown out. In many ways, the on-going violence was more of a talking point than the match itself in the build-up. Both of these teams were unimpressive in their first matches despite Russia snatching a draw against England.
Slovakia were able to put all the rumours and potential dangers to one side and just focus on the match. They put in a commanding performance for most of the match before clinging on to claim a 2-1 victory against Russia in this crucial Group B match.
The game started as expected, very slow with neither able to assert any authority on the game. The only two looks at goal were when Róbert Mak’s free-kick from the edge of the box was easily headed out by Russia’s Aleksandr Kokorin and Marek Hamsik hit a shot on the half-volley from around 25 yards out comfortably over the bar.
After the early exchanges, Russia began to get on the ball more and control the play but they struggled to cause Slovakia any real problems with slow play and passes going astray. Fedor Smolov fired his volley well wide. Russia then tried to get star man, Zenit St Petersburg striker, Artem Dzuyba more involved in the game. His run into the penalty area caused panic in the Slovakian defence and only a slight knick on the ball stopped Slovakia conceding a penalty. He then laid on the first real chance of the game, Fedor Smolov took aim from long range, missing the outside of the post by a whisker.
In the 30th minute, all of a sudden, a dull game burst into life, from inside his own half, Slovakia’s star-man, Marek Hamšik, played an inch-perfect long range pass from inside his own half to former Manchester City striker Vladmír Weiss who cut inside, taking two defenders out of the game and fired the ball past Akinfeev in the Russian goal to give Slovakia the lead against the run of play. While the finish must be admired it really was poor defending by Igor Smolnikov, who over committed himself and opened up the whole right-hand side of the goal for Weiss to aim at.
The game rather meandered until the 45th minute when Marek Hamšik produced a second moment of magic in the first half. Hamšik received the ball on the edge of the box, cut inside under very little pressure and fired a vicious shot into the top right-hand corner which bounced off the post and over the line to register a contender for goal of the tournament. Slovakia and in particular Hamšik left Russia with a mountain to climb in the second half.
Russia set about chasing the game straight after half-time,the ineffective duo of Roman Neustader and Aleksandr Golovin were taken off in favour of like for like replacements Denis Glushakov and Pavel Mamaev. However, they soon showed that they were not up to the task, they continued to give the ball away and fail to pose a threat. Early in the second-half, they gifted possession to Robert Mak who had his shot well saved by Akinfeev in the Russian goal and at the other end, Russia wasted a promising looking 4-on-4 breakaway with Oleg Shatov deciding to shoot and blazing over.
Just past the hour mark, Russia continued to push forward but as had been the case all game, they lacked quality and the closest they came during their period of possession was a shot from Kokorin deflected tamely into the ‘keeper’s arms and Smolov who had a header blocked in the centre of the box.
The game completely changed in the 80th minute, out of absolute nowhere Russia put together a neat period of passing play which resulted in Shatov cutting the ball back for substitute Glushakov to head home to half the deficit. From that point on, Russia took control all of a sudden every Russian pass started finding its intended target and Slovakia, who were cruising, found themselves on the ropes. Russia began to dominate and came close through Glushakov again who shot just wide. Artem Dzubya then took the ball past three Slovakian defenders before Tomas Hubocan bravely blocked his shot, Slovakia were now clinging on. They managed to hang on though and cling on to a 2-1 win, their first ever in the win at the European Championships.
Man of the Match: Marek Hamšik
It was a game that lacked quality in the final third and was only lit up by two moments of brilliance and they were both provided by the Napoli man. He is his country’s star and really stepped up today to put his country in a strong position to qualify for the last-16.