Wednesday, July 17, 2024
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Preview: England vs. Slovakia – prediction, team news, lineups – Sports Mole

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After safely navigating the group stage, England‘s quest for Euro 2024 glory enters the knockout phase when they face Slovakia on Sunday.
The teams convene in Gelsenkirchen with a place in the quarter-finals at stake, and Switzerland will be the winners’ next opponents.

England's Harry Kane and manager Gareth Southgate after the match on June 25, 2024© Reuters
Ultimately aiming to go one better than losing out in the final of Euro 2020, England return to Gelsenkirchen this weekend, having kicked off this summer’s European Championship campaign with victory over Serbia in the Ruhr Valley city.
The Three Lions qualified for the last 16 as Group C winners, avoiding a potentially trickier route towards Berlin, where the Henri Delaunay trophy will be handed over in two weeks time.
Picking up five points from games against Denmark, Slovenia and Serbia, Gareth Southgate‘s side recorded draws against the former pair following their nervy 1-0 defeat of a limited Serbian side.
Despite still being undefeated at Euro 2024, Tuesday’s stalemate with Slovenia sparked an angry reaction from some supporters in Cologne, while many pundits have been critical of a squad that have won just two of their last eight matches.
Southgate – who played both of England’s first two games against Slovakia, during Euro 2004 qualifying – must now cut through the noise and ensure his talented team match expectations.
Neither France, Belgium, Portugal, Germany or Spain will be blocking England’s potential path to the final, and victory on Sunday would set up a quarter-final clash with Switzerland, who eliminated reigning champions Italy on Saturday.
First, though, the Three Lions will aim to extend an unbeaten record versus Slovakia, having won five of the nations’ six meetings to date: the only time they failed to win was at Euro 2016 – a drab goalless draw in the group stage.
Slovakia's Ondrej Duda celebrates scoring their first goal on June 26, 2024© Reuters
While precedent is certainly not on their side, Slovakia will not be taken lightly by their more illustrious opponents, as an opening win over Belgium proved they are capable of causing an upset.
While the Falcons took just a single point from their next two fixtures, losing to Ukraine and drawing 1-1 with Romania, they edged through by finishing third in Group E, in which each team ended up on four points.
Ondrej Duda scored the goal that put them in front against Romania, and he has since spoken in glowing terms about head coach Francesco Calzona, to whom he ascribes most of the credit for Slovakia’s recent revival.
Throughout the qualifying campaign for Euro 2024, Calzona’s side lost just twice in 10 matches – both times to Portugal – and a more attacking approach ensured their place at the finals.
Slovakia had 37 shots overall – and 13 on target – during the group phase, which were both new national records at a major tournament. By contrast, they produced only two shots on target at Euro 2020.
Interim coach of Napoli for the latter part of last season, Calzona has leaned on experience in his first international job, and the Italian’s starting XIs so far have had a competition-high average age of 30 years and 218 days, with 37-year-olds Peter Pekarik and Juraj Kucka both playing prominent roles.
At their third successive Euros, after appearing for the first time as an independent nation just eight years ago, Slovakia must now break new ground if they are to progress any further, having never won more than once at a single European Championship.

England's Luke Shaw pictured on June 24, 2024© Reuters
Although not ready to start after such a long layoff, England’s first-choice left-back Luke Shaw has made himself available for Sunday’s game – the opening goalscorer in the Euro 2020 final is yet to feature because of a hamstring problem.
His return is timely, as stand-in Kieran Trippier joined midfield mainstay Declan Rice in training separately from the main group in midweek; meanwhile, Newcastle United winger Anthony Gordon sustained several minor injuries after falling off a bike but will still be fit to play.
Phil Foden returns from a trip home for the birth of his child, so Gareth Southgate’s apparently irresolvable selection dilemma in the final third goes on: Gordon and Cole Palmer head the long queue for promotion from the bench.
Incidentally, Foden is one of four players who would miss out on a quarter-final if booked: Trippier, Conor Gallagher and Marc Guehi are the others.
Meanwhile, captain Harry Kane will try to step up a gear following a subdued start to the summer: the Bayern Munich man has scored six goals in his last six knockout appearances at major tournaments – in fact, his overall tally of seven so far is the most of any English player to date.
Another certain selection is Jordan Pickford: across the last two Euros, England have kept more clean sheets than any other nation – seven from 10 games – and each one has featured the Everton goalkeeper between the posts. The only other men with more European Championship clean sheets are Spain’s Iker Casillas (nine), Netherlands’ Edwin van der Sar (eight) and Italy’s Gianluigi Buffon (also eight).
Slovakia’s lineup tends to change very little under Francesco Calzona, so goalkeeper Martin Dubravka, centre-back Milan Skriniar and midfield metronome Stanislav Lobotka should again form the underdogs’ spine.
The latter is supported by Ondrej Duda and Juraj Kucka, while either David Strelec or Boavista striker Robert Bozenik will most likely be joined by Lukas Haraslin and Ivan Schranz up front.
Hellas Verona forward Tomas Suslov has made an impact as a substitute but is not expected to displace Haraslin on the Falcons’ left flank.
Both Duda and Schranz are one booking away from a ban, which would rule them out of a potential last-eight contest next Saturday.

England possible starting lineup:
Pickford; Walker, Stones, Guehi, Trippier; Mainoo, Rice; Saka, Bellingham, Foden; Kane
Slovakia possible starting lineup:
Dubravka; Pekarik, Vavro, Skriniar, Hancko; Kucka, Lobotka, Duda; Schranz, Bozenik, Haraslin

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The path to Berlin has apparently opened up, as the winners will play Switzerland in the quarter-finals, with a potential semi against one of Austria, Romania, Turkey and the Netherlands lying ahead.
Only one of these nations has been involved in a successful European Championship campaign to date – Slovakia lifted the trophy as part of Czechoslovakia in 1976 – but England should keep their dream of a first continental title alive.
Even a Three Lions side lacking both balance and rhythm can get the job done in Gelsenkirchen – though it may be a matter of substance over style.

For data analysis of the most likely results, scorelines and more for this match please click here.

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