Slovakia make their UEFA European Under-17 Championship finals debut a week on Sunday and coach Ladislav Pecko believes the draw has given them every chance of success.
Pecko was keen to avoid Russia and Ukraine – and sure enough neither were drawn in Group A, with Slovakia to play Austria in Dubnica nad Vahom before Zilina fixtures against Switzerland and Sweden. Although Pecko's team have lost to both Austria and Switzerland in friendlies this season, he is sure they can at least get third place in the group – and a ticket to the FIFA U-17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates, with anything beyond that "an added bonus" as he told UEFA.com.
UEFA.com: What do you think about the draw?
Ladislav Pecko: We have great expectations, we are participating for the first time, we are the host country, so every match will be crucial for us and there's no easy team in the group. We know how strong [Russia and Ukraine] are because we often play them, that's why I preferred the opponents we have in our group now, who don't know us so well. On the other hand, we don't know them either; but we know how tenacious the Slavonic countries can be, so I didn't want them as our opponents.
UEFA.com: So you're satisfied?
Pecko: More satisfied than I would have been if we had been in the other group [Croatia, Italy, Russia and Ukraine].
UEFA.com: Hosting a football championship means some pressure for the home team. How will you help your side cope?
Pecko: I think we've been trying to reduce that pressure; it is a U17 championship, it's sport, it's football, and that will be our attitude. But we will approach the tournament with full seriousness and try to get the best out of them.
UEFA.com: The first match is against Austria. What will be the key to success?
Pecko: The first match of a tournament is always important, and if you handle it well and at least don't lose you have good motivation and you go into the next games in high spirits. So the first match of every finals is quite decisive, but we mustn't overestimate it. If we don't handle it well, it won't be a tragedy. If we do, it'll be great and that's why we'll prepare as well as we can.
UEFA.com: Which opponent is the easiest one for you?
Pecko: Hard to say, really. We've already played Austria and Switzerland; we don't know Sweden very well, but we know what a football country it is. It's hard to judge in this category, maybe they were in better shape in qualifying. We'll see at the tournament itself; but if the players put their heart in it and fight, they can play against every opponent in the group.
UEFA.com: What is your goal?
Pecko: The primary goal is to get to the World Cup; that would mean maximum satisfaction. Everything above that goal would be an added bonus for us.
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