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Slovakia

Slovakia

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Team Profile: Slovakia

GettyImagesSlovakia have qualified for their first ever finals

Appearances at finals:
(As Czechoslovakia)
1934 - Runners-up
1938 - Quarter-finals
1954 - First round
1958 - First round
1962 - Runners-up
1970 - First round
1982 - First round
1990 - Quarter-finals

Overall record at finals: (As Czechoslovakia) Played 30, Won 11, Drawn 5, Lost 14.

Best performance: (As Czechoslovakia) Runners-up in 1934 and 1962.

Most appearances at finals: Jan Popluhar (1958, 1962) - 8 (for Czechoslovakia).

Most goals at finals: Adolf Scherer (1962) - 3 (for Czechoslovakia).

World Cup high: Qualifying for the 2010 finals, which will be their first appearance at a major international tournament as an independent nation.

World Cup low: Being destroyed 5-1 by Spain in the World Cup 2006 qualification play-off, with the humiliating first-leg defeat ending any hopes of appearing in the finals for the first time.

World Cup legend: Jan Popluhar was named the greatest Slovakian player of the 20th century. The defender was an integral part of the Czechoslovakia side that reached the 1962 World Cup final and he played a total of 62 times for his country. Though Czechoslovakia lost the final 3-1 to Brazil, Popluhar had helped stifle the mighty Garrincha and Pele earlier in the tournament as the sides drew 0-0 during the group stages. This was only the second time in 22 World Cup matches that Brazil had not scored a goal.

The story so far: Slovakia have finally emerged from the shadow of neighbours Czech Republic after qualifying for their first major international tournament as an independent nation. Slovakia's political accession from the old Czechoslovakia came in 1993, but the combined football team played together for a further year before disbanding after failing to secure qualification to the 1994 World Cup finals.

Historically, Slovakia contributed a number of players to the old Czechoslovakian national side, and had four key players play in the team that lost 3-1 to Brazil in the 1962 World Cup final having initially been 1-0 up. Goalkeeper Viliam Schrojf, imperious defender Jan Popluhar, midfield schemer Andrej Kvasnak and prolific striker Adolf Scherer all played a crucial part in the country's impressive progression to the final.

Since competing as an independent nation, Slovakia have been perennial nearly-men, finishing third in qualifying for four of the eight major tournaments they have entered, while Czech Republic have impressed, reaching the Euro 96 final and Euro 2004 semi-finals. In 2005, the Slovakians took a step forward by reaching the World Cup qualification play-offs, but an embarrassing 5-1 first-leg defeat to Spain ended their dream. They looked to have gone backwards with a disappointing fourth-place finish in Euro 2008 qualification, but they bounced back to win a tight group, at the expense of neighbours Czech Republic, to book their place at the 2010 finals.

Qualification: Despite losing home and away to second-placed Slovenia, Slovakia won seven of their other eight fixtures to top Group Three by two points. Inspired by the impressive Marek Hamsik and the goals of Stanislav Sestak, Slovakia grabbed important home and away victories over Poland, Northern Ireland and San Marino. They also beat neighbours Czech Republic away from home to cement their status as group leaders as Slovenia floundered, and qualification was confirmed with a battling 1-0 victory in the snow of Poland to complete the Slovakian fairytale.

Qualifying record: P10, W7, D1, L2, F22, A10, Pts22.

Most appearances: Robert Vittek, Peter Pekarik (9).

Top goalscorer: Stanislav Sestak (6).