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Slovakia battered, bruised but closer to France

Their right-back ended up watching the last ten minutes in hospital, but it was mission accomplished for Slovakia as they took "a small but important step towards France".

Highlights: Slovakia 0-0 Ukraine

Avoiding defeat was Slovakia's primary task against Ukraine on Tuesday and it was mission accomplished after a performance so committed that their starting right-back Peter Pekarík ended up watching in hospital.

"I misjudged the situation and in trying to head the ball back to our goalkeeper I fell," the Hertha BSC man said of the incident at the beginning of the second half that led to him dislocating his shoulder. "I was a bit scared at first because I have had a similar problem before, but this looks better. I shouldn't be out for three months this time."

Before switching attention to himself, Pekarík watched the last ten minutes from hospital, announcing himself "pleased with the point" in Zilina. It is a result that keeps Ján Kozák's team three points clear of Ukraine in the race for second in Group C. With a superior head-to-head record over their rivals, a win at home to Belarus next month would take Slovakia through.

Róbert Mak shoots for Slovakia
Róbert Mak shoots for Slovakia©AFP/Getty Images

"A 0-0 draw is a good result," said midfielder Juraj Kucka, who recently joined AC Milan from Genoa. "We have another home game in October against Belarus, with our fans behind us, so we have the advantage. We defended very well; we had to, because if Ukraine had scored first it would have been the worst-case scenario."

That they did not owed much to a no-holds-barred defensive display typified by Tomáš Hubočan, deployed in central defence before replacing Pekarík at right-back. That put him up against the ever-active Yevhen Konoplyanka. "It was nothing new to me," he said. "The whole team deserve praise: we didn't allow Ukraine many chances.

"The draw is a small but important step towards France. It's a pity we didn't score because we could have celebrated right now. Everything is in our hands at least. Now we must see it through."