From a seemingly hopeless situation to Thursday's first leg against the Netherlands – Slovakia's journey to the UEFA European Under-21 Championship play-offs in a nutshell.
Ivan Galád's team suffered three successive 2-0 defeats midway through qualifying Group 9, and the prospect of Slovakia advancing seemed unlikely as they built up to their final two games. That one of those was against France, who had yet to drop a point or concede a goal, underlined the scale of their task.
Slovakia somehow retrieved the situation, however, defeating the leaders 2-1 and then demolishing Kazakhstan 6-0, a scoreline which, coupled with results elsewhere, enabled them to sneak through on goal difference as one of the four best runners-up.
Now only a two-legged tie against the Jong Oranje, winners of Group 10, stand between Slovakia and a place in the finals for the first time since 2000, when they hosted the event. "We will do everything to beat them and to play in Israel next year," said captain Filip Kiss. "I believe we have a chance."
Whether out of superstition or not, the Slovak Football Association opted to stage the first leg at the stadium where they so joyously rounded off their qualification campaign: the National Training Centre in Senec. Amid the euphoria, though, Galád sounds a cautious note, saying his team require a "miracle" to overcome their more illustrious opponents.
"The Netherlands are huge favourites for the tie, but we would like to block their route to the final tournament," said the coach. "If we want to create a miracle, we have to find a way to surprise them. Like Scotland, who beat them [2-1 away] in qualifying.
"The Netherlands have players with Champions League and Europa League experience like [Daley] Blind, from Ajax, or [Ola] John, from Benfica.
When they are playing those games, we are at home eating chips!"
Michal Šulla (Spartak Myjava), Patrik Le Giang (MŠK Žilina).
Matúš Čonka (SK Slavia Praha), Norbert Gyömbér (FK Dukla Banská Bystrica), Kristián Kolčák, Lukáš Pauschek (both ŠK Slovan Bratislava), Lukáš Štetina (FK Dukla Praha), Jakub Holúbek (AS Trenčín).
Jakub Považanec (FK Dukla Banská Bystrica), Ján Greguš (FC Baník Ostrava), Filip Kiss (Cardiff City AFC), Adam Žilák, Michal Škvarka (both FC ViOn Zlaté Moravce), Richard Lásik (Brescia Calcio), Peter Mazan (AS Trenčín), Kamil Karaš (MFK Košice) .
Martin Mikovič (FC Spartak Trnava), Róbert Mak (1. FC Norimberg), Karol Mészáros (ŠK Slovan Bratislava), Milan Lalkovič (Vitória SC), Filip Oršula (Wigan Athletic FC), Jakub Vojtuš (NK Zagreb).
Jeroen Zoet (RKC Waalwijk), Sergio Padt (KAA Gent), Nick Marsman (Go Ahead Eagles).
Daley Blind (AFC Ajax), Jeffrey Bruma (Hamburger SV), Virgil van Dijk (FC Groningen), Mitchell Dijks (AFC Ajax), Bram Nuytinck (RSC Anderlecht).
Leandro Bacuna (FC Groningen), Jordy Clasie (Feyenoord), Navarone Foor (NEC Nijmegen), Marco van Ginkel (Vitesse), Ricky van Haaren (VVV-Venlo), Kelvin Leerdam (Feyenoord), Adam Maher (AZ Alkmaar), Ben Rienstra (Heracles Almelo), Davy Pröpper (Vitesse).
Luuk de Jong (VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach), Jerson Cabral (FC Twente), Georginio Wijnaldum (PSV Eindhoven), Yanic Wildschut (VVV-Venlo), Género Zeefuik (FC Groningen).
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