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Super-sub Slaninka proves Slovakia's unlikely hero

Martin Slaninka has come off the bench twice to score crucial goals for Slovakia and the MŠK Žilina player believes he can help the host nation into the semi-finals.

Martin Slaninka is on a scoring streak for Slovakia
Martin Slaninka is on a scoring streak for Slovakia ©Sportsfile

The recipient of an improvised ice bath from jubilant team-mates after Slovakia's opening two Group A games at the 2013 UEFA European Under-17 Championship, Martin Slaninka can, it should come as no surprise to learn, keep cool in front of goal.

What is more unusual is to find the 17-year-old in a scoring position at all. Habitually a left midfielder or left-back for his club side MŠK Žilina, Slaninka's role models are Zinédine Zidane and Roberto Carlos, suggesting creating and preventing chances, not finishing them, is his staple football diet.

However, he came off the bench to strike in added time to defeat Austria on his, and Slovakia's, U17 finals debut in Dubnica nad Vahom last Sunday. And then, within 15 minutes of emerging onto the pitch in the second half on Wednesday, he edged Ladislav Pecko's host team to within touching distance of the last four by completing their comeback from two goals down to draw with Switzerland.

The deja vu did not stop there, though, with the midfielder duly getting another soaking from the rest of the squad as the celebrations continued on the field in Zilina.

"They did the same thing in Dubnica. It is super, I don't mind. It is just something new we have started doing," a smiling Slaninka, who slid in to convert a low cross 11 minutes from time and secure a 2-2 draw, told UEFA.com. "It was a super feeling. The coach told me I was coming on and told me my task was to score, and I managed to do that. I believed in myself."

That confidence has been fortified by winning the U17 national title with Žilina, his home-town side, while his introduction to Pecko's squad has been smoothed by a quartet of club-mates providing friendly faces. They all found themselves on familiar territory too, against Switzerland, as they played at MŠK's stadium.

Initially, they may have wished to make a speedy return to Dubnica nad Vahom after falling two goals behind within 29 minutes. Yet Atila Varga's late first-half equaliser and Slaninka's subsequent leveller means Saturday's concluding Group A encounter with Sweden at the same venue, from which both teams require only a point to reach the semi-finals, should hold fewer fears.

"It was difficult to hold onto the result as we were under a lot of pressure. When we set up for counterattacks, they managed to steal the ball away from us at just the right time. They were getting forward in numbers and that caused us problems, but we managed to keep them out," he said. "I think we will qualify for the semi-finals. We are just a step away and have everything in our hands."