Slovakia coach Jan Kozak has tipped Marek Hamsik to “play for a very big club” after the midfielder inspired their 2-1 Euro 2016 defeat of Russia.
Hamsik created the opening goal for former Rangers winger Vladimir Weiss before masterfully curling their second into the top-right corner to revive their hopes of reaching the competition’s knockout stage.
Russia pursued a late equalising goal after Denis Glushakov’s 80th-minute header, but their inability to convert increasing pressure leaves them on the brink of elimination.
Victory moved Slovakia up to second in Group B and in a position to ensure progress by overcoming England on Monday. England face group leaders Wales today
“[Hamsik] is one of the leaders of this team along with Martin Skrtel,” said Kozak.
“His performance was superb. He helped a lot in defence and scored a beautiful goal which was a major contribution to our victory. I don’t know whether we will be here long enough for him to become one of the top players of the finals, but what we can say is that he has matured as a person and as a player at Napoli – he is ready to play for a very big club.
“The match was very close and tense; nobody wanted to open up space and concede. We managed to score with a brilliant piece of play from Vladimir Weiss and then Marek Hamsik got another from Weiss’ set-piece.
“At half-time we said it was only 2-0; we had things under control for a time, but we got tired. The last ten minutes seemed to last a very long time.”
The result represented a major improvement on Slovakia’s 2-1 defeat by Wales, and Hamsik added: “This win was very important; it opened up the way to the last 16. We don’t have to worry too much about the England v Wales game.
“We have four or five days to recover and then we play the group favourites. I am sure it will be tougher than these two matches.”
Russia coach Leonid Slutsky, who impressed in inspiring his team to qualification after their poor form under predecessor Fabio Capello, dismissed suggestions his team selection was wrong. He is working without several injured players, but made changes at half-time and when asked if he had chosen the wrong line-up, said: “No, I wouldn’t say that because if the plan we had at the beginning had been executed, and if we had scored the first goal, it would have been a different game.
“After we went behind, we had to change our plan, especially the system in midfield.” Goalscorer and substitute Glushakov added: “We will have another good opportunity against Wales [on Monday], so we should lift our spirits and get back to where we were.
“We need to move forward and give it 100 per cent or even 200 per cent, and then we will get a result.
“We don’t have any other option against Wales – we have to win.”
Russia’s lack of quality and confidence was evident for much of yesterday’s game.
They had been fortunate Vasili Beretzuski’s late equalising goal gave them a 1-1 draw against England on Saturday, when their opponents had created enough chances to earn a convincing victory, and they again proved limited.