Slovakia were eager to get their first points of the tournament against Russia on Wednesday. They were unlucky to leave Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Wales with no points, and their showdown with the Russians in Lille was their first chance to make up for it.
It was Russia, however, who looked in control early on. Leonid Slutsky’s side looked calm in posession and Slovakia struggled to deal with the imposing size of the Russian squad. Central defense duo Vasili Berezutzski and Sergei Ignashevich were comanding in the air, while Zenit St. Petersburg striker Artyom Dzyuba’s header nearly put Russia ahead around the 20 minute mark.
It was a key play from midfielder and captin Marek Hamsik, however, that turned the tide of the match. The Napoli playmaker picked out Vladimir Weiss with a long ball over the defense. Weiss cut back across goal and put a well placed finish past Igor Akinfeev to make it 1-0 after 32 minutes.
The goal put the momentum firmly in Slovakia’s favor. Russia began to cede control of the match, and just before the break, Hamsik produced a second moment of brilliance. With the ball on the left side of the Russian half, he turned and curled a shot across Akinfeev that pinged off the far post and into the net. A beautiful effort that gave Slovakia their second goal, with just their second shot on target.
Hamsik’s stunning strike just before halftime was the moment of the match
Backs to the wall
Russia came out of the halftime break again controlling posession, but they struggled to do much with it in the final third.
It took until the 80th minute, when a Slovakian defensive…