Anyone hoping to gauge Marek Hamsik’s importance to Slovakia could do worse than mention the young playmaker’s name to Vladimir Weiss. “Marek is exceptionally gifted,” says the Slovakia coach. “He’s a world-class player and a wonderful kid as well. He’s always put in great performances wherever I’ve positioned him, and it’s for all those reasons that I decided to make him captain.” A glowing reference, but if the Repre have managed just a point from their two 2010 FIFA World Cup™ outings so far, their talented leader’s ponderous form looms prominently as a factor. So effective for Italian club Napoli after moving to Serie A in 2004, the 22-year-old is yet to hit the heights familiar to fans of the Partenopei.

Nicknamed Marieko, he has nonetheless been granted the perfect opportunity to turn things around and spark a Slovakian comeback on the global stage. Fresh from a season in which he hit 12 goals for Napoli and helped them claim a UEFA Europa League berth, Hamsik will be desperate to make his mark against Italy on Thursday. FIFA caught up with the youthful schemer ahead of that crucial encounter, in which he will be reacquainted with so many players he knows well from domestic jousts.

FIFA: After the 1-1 draw with New Zealand and the 2-0 loss to Paraguay, do you still think Slovakia can progress from Group F?
Marek Hamsik:
I’m really disappointed that we conceded a goal right at the end of our first match. If we’d won it, we’d have complete control of our own destiny. We’d have three points, Italy would have two and the situation would have been different. Now the door is only half-open.

Have you been satisfied with the team’s performances?
Of course not. We could have done better. We haven’t showed the best of ourselves and in our last group game we absolutely have to demonstrate that we’ve made improvements.

What have you learnt from those two games on a personal level?
In a World Cup, every match is complicated and you come across quality teams. I’m ashamed that we conceded that unlucky goal against New Zealand. If we’d won that game, we’d have a different mindset now. After that, Paraguay gave us a footballing lesson and they really put in a great performance.

You face Italy next and that is sure to be a special match for you.
All the matches in this tournament are special. This one will undoubtedly be no exception, except that I know all the players in Serie A. Italy is my second home and I’ve been living there for seven years now; I even feel a little Italian. Yes, this match will have a special importance for me.

Have you been surprised by Italy’s slow start in this tournament?
We knew beforehand that Paraguay and Italy are two teams who play quality football. Paraguay have proved that and, as far as I’m concerned, Italy have played really well. Their match against Los Guaraníes was evenly balanced, as expected, and against New Zealand they controlled the whole match and were just unable to take their chances. They’re obviously very disappointed to only have two points, so for them as well as us this game will be like a final.

The draw between Italy and New Zealand has left Slovakia with a chance of going through.
Yes, New Zealand have shown us how you need to play to compete with them and they defended heroically. The ideal approach would therefore be to defend well and combine that with effective counter-attacks.

Which Italy player will you need to pay particular attention to?
All their players can create danger; every player in the Italy team is world-class, whether in attack, defence or midfield. I’d probably single out Andrea Pirlo, who plays a vital role. He’s the keystone of the team, everything goes through him and he picks out wonderful passes. He’s the brains of the side.

Do you think Italy’s style will suit Slovakia?
It’s difficult to say. In personal terms, Serie A suits me, but things are different at international level. I think the Italians are well-prepared for the type of game this will be, so it’s not going to be an easy match for us.

You left Slovakia for Italy at a young age. Was that difficult for you?
Yes. I was young and I didn’t speak their language, but my team-mates helped me a lot and I quickly made sure I learnt Italian. I think it’s a huge advantage to know the language of the country you’re going to play in.

Lastly, what qualities will you be relying on to beat Italy?
Our fighting spirit shouldn’t be underestimated. We’ll give everything. We’ve got nothing to lose and that could be to our advantage.