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Slovaks make fitness vow for play-off


Milan Skriniar

Milan Skriniar

Milan Skriniar

Slovakia have repeated the mantra of the Republic of Ireland camp ahead of next month's Euro 2020 play-off in Bratislava by insisting that their squad will be fitter and sharper when that battle comes around.

The Slovaks were under fire at home for a poor effort in a 3-1 home defeat to the Czech Republic in the Nations League last week, though pride was restored with a 1-1 draw away to Israel on Monday, the Slovaks only denied a win as the Israelis equalised in the final minute.

The absence of key players, such as keeper Martin Dubravka and talisman Marek Hamsik, due to injury and Covid-related issues, left coach Pavel Hapal with a weakened squad full of players still in pre-season mode.

And one of those players yet to play a game for his club this season, Inter Milan defender Milan Skriniar, knows his side have to up their game.

"We missed a lot of players, but we are disappointed that we did not win in Israel," he said.

"But a much more important match awaits us in next month, and we must be much better prepared for that."

Coach Hapal admits his players showed signs of fatigue in the two Nations League games but will be stronger in four weeks' time.

"Especially in the second half against Israel we were tired," he said.

"Some players have not even started preparation for the new season and we lacked strength.

"We need to improve and I hope that we will be better physically next time."

The goalkeeping position had been a big concern for Hapal and Slovakia, as Newcastle United No 1 Dúbravka is out with an ankle injury. There is no time frame on his return, with doubts over whether he will be fit to face Ireland.

But his stand-in, Marek Rodak (Fulham), impressed on his debut in Israel and with a month of Premier League football to look forward to thanks to the Cottagers' promotion success, he's expected to slot in for Dúbravka.

Slovakia were also unable to call on Hamsík as was unable to travel from his base in China. And they omitted three USA-based players, including key midfielder Albert Rusnák, because of their need to quarantine but Hapal is working with the Slovak FA to have his star men available to face Ireland.