Slovakia would be happy to come away with a point from their crucial UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying Group B trip to Republic of Ireland on Friday according to defender Martin Škrtel.
Both opponents are tied with Russia on 13 points at the top of the section with four games each to go, and a slip from any of the trio could put paid to their chances of reaching next summer's finals. Slovakia have home games against Armenia on Tuesday and Russia next month before a trip to the struggling Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Firstly, though, Škrtel – set to partner Ján Ďurica at Dublin Arena – is concerned with avoiding defeat against Ireland.
"We're still in with a chance of qualifying for the finals, so I think we can be happy with our position," the Liverpool FC centre-back told UEFA.com. "I don't think it's a must-win game for us, though.
Of course, we want to win every single game, but I think that if we get a draw, that would be fine."
But for Slovakia's surprise 3-1 defeat in Armenia last October, Škrtel's side would have been top of the group. However, they can perhaps also count themselves lucky to be heading to Dublin on a par with their hosts. The teams drew 1-1 in Slovakia four days after the Armenia loss, Robbie Keane having a penalty saved by Ján Mucha after Ďurica had cancelled out Sean St Ledger's opener.
"I think it's going to be a different game in Dublin to the one we played at home," said Škrtel, who missed the home game with Ireland through suspension. "We did well, and were unlucky that we didn't score more goals. They missed a penalty, but I think we created more chances. In the game in Dublin, we can expect them to attack more. We have to deal with this. If we do that, we can get a good result."
Slovakia's chances would be significantly improved if Marek Hamšík were fit to play. The SSC Napoli midfielder has joined the squad in Ireland, though he is more likely to be ready to play on Tuesday against Armenia.
The absence of their captain is perhaps not quite the blow it would have been prior to last summer, however. A first-ever participation at a FIFA World Cup brought Slovakia out of the shadow of their Czech neighbours, with their gripping 3-2 win against reigning champions Italy one of the tournament highlights.
Coach Vladimír Weiss has artfully blended the experience of the likes of Miroslav Karhan, Marek Čech and Róbert Vittek with the youthful talent of Hamšík, Miroslav Stoch and his own son, also called Vladimír Weiss, to create a side whose success has brought this homely country of 5 million inhabitants global recognition.
"The first thing he gave us after he joined the team was confidence – he told us he believes in our quality, but he said we need to show our quality on the pitch," said Škrtel of Weiss, who in August added coaching duties at ŠK Slovan Bratislava to those he has fulfilled for the national team since 2008.
"He said we had to start playing with our hearts. I think everyone's understood that now," Škrtel added. "Now we go out on the pitch, work hard for our country and try and enjoy every single minute, and it's working. I hope it'll also work in Dublin."
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