(Reuters) – Slovakia have already exceeded expectations by reaching the last 16 in their first World Cup and hope to repeat the lively performance that beat holders Italy when they face Netherlands in the next round.
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After the feeble showing in a 2-0 defeat by Paraguay, in which they had just one shot on target, Slovakia transformed themselves on Thursday into an unrecognizable outfit that worked together as a fluid unit to stun Italy 3-2 and send them home.
The debutants finished second behind the South Americans in Group F and will face Group E winners Netherlands on Monday.
“Let’s hope we can play a similar game to today but of course the Netherlands are among the favorites for this World Cup,” double goalscorer Robert Vittek told a news conference.
The tall striker finds himself joint top scorer with Argentina’s Gonzalo Higuain on three goals after heading Slovakia’s goal in their opening 1-1 draw with New Zealand. “It’s not about me, for all of us the victory is important,” said the modest 28-year-old.
“Of course being voted man of match is important but I would like to cut this trophy into pieces and share it with my team mates. I was lucky I was in the right place at the right time.”
The players had said before the tournament that their biggest weapon was their ability to work well as a team. That showed not only on the pitch but afterwards when they all stuck together to avoid the media.
Their decision to stay silent when walking past reporters came after a difficult week with the media with players frustrated over criticism they were receiving at home over their performances.
With no harsh words possible after such a shining performance against Italy, they may decide to draw a line under the standoff, especially since the country’s soccer federation has said they need to improve relations.
No matter what happens next, the team have already broken new ground for their country on soccer’s biggest stage.
“It is the first time in our history, it is very important, also for the future it’s important,” coach Vladimir Weiss said.
(Additional reporting by Mark Meadows; Editing by Michael Holden)