One year and one month after Miroslav Stoch's goal gave them a shock 1-0 win in Moscow, Slovakia's players require a repeat performance against Russia in Zilina on Friday to keep their UEFA EURO 2012 qualification hopes alive.
Defender Ján Ďurica, who has played in the Russian Premier-Liga since 2006, first with FC Saturn Moskovskaya Oblast and now with FC Lokomotiv Moskva, fancies his team's chances. "Russian players show no fear – they are confident and most of their players say they are better than us, so I hope we will be able to upset them again," said the left-sided centre-back, who could come up against club mates Roman Shishkin and Denis Glushakov. "They want to pay us back for the Moscow defeat, but we will be focused and there is certainly a chance we will be successful again."
Sitting fourth in Group B, and coming off the back of a bitter 4-0 home defeat by Armenia on 6 September, Vladimír Weiss's men need victories in their final two fixtures – against Russia and then the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia – to have any possibility of progress. The Slovakians currently trail section leaders Russia by three points, the Republic of Ireland by one and Armenia on both goal difference and head-to-head record.
Inside knowledge may yet come to their rescue on Friday at least, with the 29-year-old Ďurica not the only Slovakia defender earning a living in Russia: Kornel Saláta of FC Rostov and FC Zenit St Petersburg's Tomáš Hubočan also ply their trade there, while 1. FSV Mainz 05's Radoslav Zabavník turned out for FC Terek Grozny in 2008/09.
"It is always good when you know more about your opponents than they do about you, and we have several players in our squad, especially defenders, who are now with Russian teams," Ďurica said. "I hope we can stay in control of the game mentally because we have to win, while for Russia one point will be a decent result. Andrey Arshavin and Roman Pavlyuchenko are very good players, but the whole team has quality so we need to be at our best."
Coach Weiss, meanwhile, knows Slovakia must raise their game after their Armenian humiliation. "We are grateful we still have a chance to advance," he said. "We will fight for the victory, that is certain, but if we are not successful then life will go on. One thing is clear, though – we have to play better than we did against Armenia."
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