With wins against both reigning European champions Spain and world champions Germany in the last two years, Slovakia will consider England beatable opposition when they face each other on Monday.
After narrowly negotiating a spirited Wales side both adept at frustrating the opposition with bodies behind the ball and in possession of one of the most dangerous players, England face a similar task against Slovakia in St. Etienne.
Manager Jan Kozak will deploy a 4-2-3-1 system in which 28-year-old playmaker Marek Hamsik, the team’s talisman, is granted a free role to probe, pass and shoot through opposition defences.
Danger man - Marek Hamsik
Just as Wales are often reliant on a moment of magic from Real Madrid superstar Gareth Bale, so too do “The Falcons” require the talents of five time Slovakian player of the year Hamsik — top scorer in qualifying with five goals — to win games.
Hamsik almost scored the goal of the tournament in Slovakia’s opening 2-1 loss to Wales, but was denied by Ben Davies’ last-ditch block off the line after his run ripped a hole through the rest of the defence.
Both the Napoli star and his team put that to rights against Russia on Wednesday, triumphing with a 2-1 win that featured a Hamsik howitzer that is arguably the best scored in France so far this summer — an in-off-the-post ping from a tight angle outside the box.
“Napoli has become too small for Marek,” gushed Kozak following the game. “He deserves to play for a really big club.”
Captain of Napoli, Hamsik leads from the front for Slovakia even if the armband is worn by Liverpool’s Martin Skrtel, and has a ceaseless work rate and experienced intelligence to match his technical skills.
Beyond Hamsik, Slovakia possess trickery and invention on the wings in Manchester City graduates Vladimir Weiss and Robert Mak, as well as back-up option Miroslav Stoch. AC Milan’s Juraj Kucka provides industry in midfield.
Head-to-head v England
A 100 per cent winning record from three games against Slovakia, at an aggregate scoreline of 8-2, should provide England fans comfort ahead of the game.
The last meeting between the two sides — seven years ago in an international friendly — resulted in a 4-0 win for the Three Lions.
Rooney, who scored a brace in the Wembley game, is the only player to feature in the game in the current England squad. Slovakia, meanwhile, have six players remaining.