There’s no denying the history of these two countries – for 75 years of the last century they were one country. In fact, the union of Czechoslovakia took place in October 1918, so what more fitting way to commemorate the centenary than have Slovakia face their neighbours in a Nations League tie? Yes, there are probably a few more fitting ways, but they’re playing anyway.
These sides share a group with, and have both lost to, Ukraine in League B of the competition, and there’s a decent chance that they both need a win here to have real shot at progressing to the knockout stages. For two sides that have a decent footballing pedigree since they went their separate ways in 1993 – the Czechs made the semi-finals of Euro 1996 and 2004 – these are lean times. They’ll only get leaner for the side that loses.
Slovakia vs Czech Republic Prediction: Slovakia 2-1 Czech Republic
Over recent years, the Czech Republic have fallen away from what they once were – between the mid-1990s and the mid-00s, they were among the best national teams in Europe. If either side is the better of the two right now, it’s the home side. Repre/Nasi have the better players, and with home advantage here we see them having enough to win this game narrowly. Of course, there is a certain amount of sense in the idea that a local rivalry levels things out – we just don’t think that effect will be strong enough to pull the visitors over the line.
Our recommended tip: Slovakia Over 1.5 Goals
The days are gone when Narod’na could count on nuggety centre-backs like the two Tomases – Repka and Ujfalusi – and in recent years world-class goalkeeper Petr Cech has plumped for international retirement. What’s left behind is a not very good, largely ageing defence, and it shows. With captain Marek Suchy missing through injury, the Czechs may also lack some leadership. Before the World Cup, Jaroslav Silhavy’s men were beaten 4-0 by Australia. A Slovak midfield containing the likes of Marek Hamsik should be more than capable of creating the openings to hand the home side at least a couple of goals.
The split into two separate nations was a peaceful, amicable return to the historic norm, so although there is a rivalry between these sides, it is friendly. They have played each other in a number of friendly matches even in the comparatively short window since separation, including two since 2012. Habitually, the side playing at home tends to win.
The most recent meeting came in 2015, at Zilina – an hour north of where this game will be played. Slovakia, on home turf, emerged as 1-0 winners thanks to a goal from Ondrej Duda. The Hertha Berlin midfielder will be involved in this match, and is a realistic contender to repeat the feat of three years ago.
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Players to watch: Marek Hamsik & Patrik Schick
Hamsik is likely to be the closest thing on this pitch to a world-class player, his assurance on the ball and solid playmaker’s instincts a major asset to a Napoli side that finished a strong second in Italy last season. At Napoli, he has Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne to pass to. At national level, he has to do a bit more on his own as Slovakia lack a top-level striker. He’s more than talented enough to do it, as 21 international goals show.
The Czech sides of the last couple of decades featured names such as Poborsky, Nedved, Skuhravy, Koller and Berger. Now, their best bet is 22-year-old target-man Schick. An understudy to Edin Dzeko at Roma, he usually doesn’t need to take too much on himself – but if he could channel the classy Bosnian for 90 minutes here it would be very much welcomed by his countrymen. Schick has two goals in 23 games for his club, but three in ten at representative level, so he does come alive in the national shirt.