Euro 2024 team guides, part 19: Slovakia | Slovakia

This article is part of the Guardian’s Euro 2024 Expert Network, a cooperation between some of the top media organizations from the 24 qualifying countries. is showing daily previews from two countries in the run-up to the tournament which begins on June 14.


Slovak fans are skeptical by nature and have a habit of being loud when the team is doing well, but disappearing when results are poor. In recent years, fans have had little to celebrate after particularly poor results in the Nations League (they finished third in their group after losing at home to Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan and drawing against Belarus).

However, when it comes to the Euros, they have qualified for their third tournament in a row, stepping up a gear following the sacking of much-criticised Stefan Tarkovic after some frustrating and lethargic performances in the summer of 2022.

The Slovak Federation has decided to appoint a foreign coach. Plus, this was speaking to someone who had never worked as a head coach before. However, Francesco Calzona couldn’t have come more highly recommended with national team legend Marek Hamsik – who played a record 138 times for his country – throwing his weight behind the Italian, having worked with him in Naples for many years.

Calzona was Maurizio Sarri’s assistant at the Serie A club but, understandably, the decision raised eyebrows, particularly among former Slovak internationals. However, the 55-year-old has transformed Slovakia’s fortunes. The first thing he did was give the players much-needed confidence, especially when it came to the system they were playing. Slovakia started collecting wins – and draws – again and finished qualifying with just two narrow defeats to group winners Portugal.

Calzona prefers a sort of 4-3-3 formation – although it can also be seen as a 4-1-4-1 – with high pressure from two No.8s (normally Juraj Kucka and Ondrej Duda). He tried to implement a fast-paced pressing game instead of a park-the-bus attitude seen in previous major tournaments. The full-backs are encouraged to attack.

However, there is still work to be done to try to conquer an audience that is never satisfied. Regardless of how the Euros play out, there is a consensus that Slovakia must renew after the tournament. The average age of the starting XI during the qualifying campaign was approaching 30, making them the oldest team of all.