After a dramatic opening draw with New Zealand, Slovakia know they need a good result against Paraguay in their second Group F assignment on Sunday in Bloemfontein – especially with FIFA World Cup™ holders Italy to come in their final game.
Marek Cech, one of the leading lights of Slovakian football, told FIFA.com that the team were disheartened by the late goal that allowed the Kiwis to steal a point at the death on Tuesday, but he insisted any opening-day jitters would be behind the team in their remaining two group matches. "We have all settled down a little bit, I think," said the nimble left-back. "Because the opener was such a special match, maybe we were a little bit nervous. But tomorrow that will be gone, and we can play as good as we can and hopefully celebrate at the end."
The 27-year-old, who helped lead West Bromwich Albion into the English Premier League last season, admitted the challenge at hand would be a tough one. "We watched [Paraguay's] match against Italy, and they proved that they should be a very tough opponent. They were similar to Chile, who we played in a friendly back in Slovakia before the World Cup. They hold the ball well, they give you nothing for free, and they played with confidence, which should only increase after their result."
The former Porto player added that the South Americans, who have reached the last four FIFA World Cups and made the second round twice in that time, held an advantage in terms of experience over the Slovakians, who are making their finals debut. "Paraguay are more experienced with a lot of games at the World Cup, so I would expect them to be stronger than New Zealand," he said. "I was surprised at how physical they were in defending against Italy, and they were tactically very strong. It seemed that most of their chances came on set-pieces, but I would expect them to be more attack-minded in this match against us. It's very important for both of us to win because whichever team gets three points is much closer to being in control of the group."
All four Group F sides have a point after two opening 1-1 draws in the section. Slovakia had looked set to claim full spoils against New Zealand in Rustenburg after Robert Vittek's 50th-minute opener. But a lapse in concentration deep into injury time saw Winston Reid deny the debutants a best-possible start. Taking back those two dropped points is the goal against Paraguay, according to Cech. "[A win] would be a big thing because Slovakia have never qualified before, so that would be an amazing success. Everyone back home is excited for us to do well, so it's a big responsibility because we want to show the world that we play nice football in Slovakia. For sure we don't want to be one of the bottom teams."
Having established himself as a West Brom regular under manager Roberto Di Matteo, Cech looks set to win his 42nd cap on Sunday. He insisted that Slovakia did not see themselves at outsiders and balked at the suggestion that the success of other Eastern European sides like Slovenia and Serbia would buoy their spirits. "I watched Slovenia very closely because I am good friends with Robert Koren, and I thought their match [against USA] was similar to ours, but they were ahead by two goals before losing the lead. I don't think the two are related because every team has their own problems and own responsibilities, and of course, we are focused on ourselves. We don't need to draw confidence from the success of Slovenia or anybody else."