Slovakia boss Jan Kozak wary of Scotland's Celtic factor

Slovakia head coach Jan Kozak believes Scotland's World Cup qualifying '¨revival is down to the Celtic '¨factor and has labelled '¨striker Leigh Griffiths as 'excellent'.

Slovakia manager Jan Kozak says the 5 October clash is likely to decide which team qualifies for the play-offs. Picture: SNS
Slovakia manager Jan Kozak says the 5 October clash is likely to decide which team qualifies for the play-offs. Picture: SNS

Full-back Kieran Tierney was the only Celtic representative when Slovakia meted out a 3-0 defeat to Gordon Strachan’s side last October. Since then Strachan’s team has been dominated by Parkhead players, with captain Scott Brown, Tierney, Craig Gordon, Stuart Armstrong, Leigh Griffiths and James Forrest all starting in the recent wins over Lithuania and Malta.

Three victories from four undefeated matches have breathed life into Scotland’s hopes of finishing in the play-offs.

Slovakia head to Hampden on 5 October for a crucial match in the fight for second place and Kozak, whose team are a point clear in the runners-up spot, is in no doubt about what the catalyst is behind his Group F rival’s resurgence.

He said: “The philosophy of the Scotland team has changed after we beat them 3-0. The body of the team is made up by Celtic players and they have a wide range. They are now playing 
really well.

“I do not want to talk about individuals because football is a team game. The Scottish team has a strong team with a lot of personalities, starting with the goalkeepers, with great defence and 
ending with the excellent Griffiths as striker.

“They have a team that is self-confident and they also prove this with results.

“The Scots are a challenging opponent.”

Scotland will be guaranteed a second-place finish if they beat Slovakia and Slovenia in their final two group matches and Kozak admits the victors in Glasgow will be in the driving seat to secure a play-off place.

He said: “It looks like that. Whoever manages to win will have everything in his hands. It will be a meeting that is likely to decide who will play in the play-offs 
and we will do our best for a successful result.

“My team has great experience and this generation of ours has great quality, which was confirmed with the fact that we got to the World Cup and the European Championship finals.

“This has now been complemented by young players who have increased the competition, the team has matured and is now better.”

Kozak, meanwhile, admits both he and his players will relish playing in front of a packed 52,000 capacity Hampden at the start of next month.

He added: “Scotland is a proud nation. They are huge patriots who give everything on the pitch and I have a great respect for them.

“They are very strong on home soil and they have huge support from their fans, who create a real football environment.

“But most of my players have experienced what we will face in Scotland and will not have a problem with a stormy atmosphere.

“I look forward greatly
to this match. I like all the games in this country because people love football there and they can create a great atmosphere for their teams.

“I believe the stadium will be full, and our supporters will support us and help us in this challenging fight with their vocal cords.”