There will be 21 players on the pitch when Slovakia host Scotland in Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier. And then there will be Marek Hamsik, according to former Slovakia and Celtic defender Stanislav Varga.
“He stands apart from anyone in both sides,” said the Tatran Presov manager of the Napoli attacking midfielder, who last month passed Diego Maradona’s league scoring record for the Italian club.
“I don’t want to say Scotland have average players but none of them are really top, top players. None of them are playing for a really big team. Even for us, Hamsik isn’t playing for a Manchester United or a club like that. But he’s a player who can make a difference for us.”
Hamsik, only 14 shy of Maradona’s all-competitions goals total of 115 for Napoli, has made a difference to the country for whom he has 92 caps and 19 goals. Before he appeared on the international scene in 2007, Slovakia – who played their first modern-day game in 1994 following the break-up of the old Czechoslovakia – hadn’t featured in a major finals.
Two years later Hamsik proved instrumental in earning his nation a place in the 2010 World Cup, where his displays took Slovakia through to the second phase. Then five goals in a tough European Championship qualifying group allowed Slovakia to appear in a Euros for the first time this year, a draw with England again seeing them progress from the group stages.
“Slovakia has a lot of good players but he’s the main one,” said Varga, who played for Celtic for three years from 2003. “He’s a vital player for Napoli too and he showed what he can do at the World Cup. He scored a fantastic goal against Russia. When he’s performing, on his day he’s a very good player for us.”
Varga talks of “the Slovakian people” also “relying” on Martin Skrtel. The former Liverpool defender, who left Anfield for Fenerbahce in the summer, did not merit that trust in being guilty of a mindless stamp on Harry Kane that brought him a red card as Slovakia were cruelly denied a point after their ten-man resistance was broken in the 95th minute in Sam Allardyce’s only game in charge of England.
However, Skrtel’s participation on Tuesday could be under threat, with the defender last week having surgery after breaking a bone in his nose. “I hope he will be back for Scotland. I like him because he’s a tough player, an old-fashioned defender,” said Varga. “His red card against England, that’s his style, so sometimes that can happen.”
One player who won’t be facing Scotland is former Rangers player Vladimir Weiss, who has been left out of the squad by coach Jan Kosak after police allegations of drink-driving last Sunday.
“I can’t talk about Weiss because I don’t really know what happened,” Varga said. “But we’ll see after the investigation what the truth is. He’s a very good player for Slovakia and they’ll miss him. The coach couldn’t pick him after what has happened, he had no choice.”
n Stanislav Varga was speaking at a William Hill event.