Friday 23 February 2018

'Of course I'd kick him'- Slovakia's Martin Skrtel happy to rough up Liverpool teammate Daniel Sturridge

Tom Rooney

With the sleeves of tattoos, skin tight crewcut and his abrasive, often clumsy approach to defending, Slovakia’s Martin Skrtel has never given the impression of a man encumbered by sentiment and, ahead of tonight’s showdown with England, he’s confirmed that line of thought.

Football, in every sense of the word, is a global game and, as such, when major tournaments come about, players who spend their day jobs as club-mates are pitted against each other.

This is precisely the case for Martin Skrtel and England’s five-strong Liverpool contingent. Of course, to the players in question, this will hardly register as even the mildest of distractions, particularly with so much still at stake in Group B.

As it stands, England top the pool on four points, with a goal difference of +1. With Slovakia and Wales dead even in second; three points apiece and a goal difference of 0.

Wales take on bottom-placed Russia at 8.0pm, the same time Slovakia and England do battle.

Roy Hodgson is expected to make six changes from England’s win over Wales, which will include starting the game’s match-winners Daniel Sturridge and Jamie Vardy. Sturridge, of course, plays at Anfield with Skrtel.

It was put to the latter whether or not he’d be willing rough up the former if it meant securing victory for Slovakia. There was not a modicum of ambiguity in his response.

“We can be friends before and after the game. On the pitch, there are no friends,' the defender said.

“If you asked Daniel he'd answer the same. We try and do the best for the team. If that means having to kick him, then yes. Of course.

“We know each other well, but it's very difficult to predict a situation in a game. Every single game is different. We have to be ready for them, for him, and to try and eliminate their strengths and work on our own to be a success.”

Potentially, considering the tinkering expected of Hodgson, Skrtel could well find himself having to dish out similar treatment to Adam Lallana, James Milner, Jordan Henderson and Nathaniel Clyne.

Despite the Reds supplying a sizable cadre to the English effort, the 31-year-old said he could offer his compatriots little inside information as means of gaining the upper hand tonight in Saint Etienne. He did mention, however, that he was yet to be quizzed as such.

“I think we know them well, not only me but other players too. England have star players, so we all know them. We just have to take that knowledge into the game.

“Everyone knows about England's qualities and strengths, which they proved in qualifying and in the first two matches.”

Given how fortunes have unfolded thus far, Group B still offers plenty of scope for surprise. Should England beat Slovakia, they’ll emerge as Group winners and face the third place side of Group C, D or E. Currently Northern Ireland, Czech Republic and Sweden.

Yet Wales and Slovakia can still  relieve them of the honour, which is a far less daunting prospect than second place, which would mean facing the runners  up in Group C, presently Poland.

If the third placed side in Group B manages to qualify, then the winners of Group C await, who, as it stands, is world champions Germany.

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