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Home is the hero Hamsik for Slovaks


Marek Hamšík

Marek Hamšík

Marek Hamšík

A kickabout with his own children's football team in Slovakia was an easy way for Marek Hamšík to ease himself back in to international duty yesterday after an 11-month absence.

And the talisman for Slovakia, their all-time top scorer and most-capped player of all time, insists he will be fully fit, free of let lag and, more importantly, unhindered by any Covid-19 issues related to his permanent base of China when his side face Ireland in Bratislava on Thursday.

Now 33, Hamšík was unable to travel from China - he plays for the club managed by Rafa Benitez - to play in the Nations League last month but he has already arrived in Slovakia, having played his last game in China eight days ago.

"I have been home for a few days now and I don't feel tired," he says.

"We were tested for Covid-19 eveery week in China. Last Wednesday, I tested myself in Slovakia and everything is fine. I missed the national team for a long time. It's been a year since I played but I'm really looking forward to it, even more so because we have important and challenging matches ahead of us," he says.

"I have to focus on the first, which is the most important, and that is the battle with Ireland for the chance to get to the playoff final for Euro 2020.

Hamšík didn't play in Dublin in 2007, when Ireland won 1-0 at Croke Park, so his four appearances for the national team against the Republic have all been draws

"Our matches against Ireland were always even, where one goal was decisive, there were also a lot of draws, so it's two evenly-balanced teams and we'll see what happens on the pitch."

Stephen Kenny had one dose of bad news, injury-wise, on Saturday when Seamus Coleman suffered a hamstring tear while in action in the Premier League that rules him out,

And he had a nervous day yesterday, with 10 of his players in action in England for their clubs.

There will have been a similar sense of anxiety for his opposite number, Pavel Hapal, as only a handful of his squad were in action on Saturday, most of them playing yesterday.

Keeper Marek Rodak was again on the bench for Fulham but scouting-wise, Hapal's main focus will have been on how his key players fared in league games in Italy, Germany and Holland.

Last night full back Peter Pekarik started for Hertha Berlin against European champions Bayern Munich but Slovakia's lead striker, Róbert Bozenik, could only manage a few minutes off the bench for Dutch league leaders Feyenoord in their win at Willem II.

The Italian league was a mixed bag for the six Slovakian players there: Defender Milan Skriniar (Inter Milan) and midfielder Juraj Kucka (Parma) both started and Serie B player Norbert Gyömbér also played but Denis Vavro (Lazio) and Lukáš Haraslín (Sassuolo) were not involved.

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