Slovakia bounced back from defeat to Wales in their opening Group B match by beating Russia 2-1 in Lille.
Vladimir Weiss and Marek Hamsik produced brilliant first half finishes to put Slovakia in control, and even though Denis Glushakov set up a nervy finish with a late header, they got the three points to boost their hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages, while their opponents slipped closer to an early exit from the tournament.
Slovakia made one change from the 2-1 defeat against Chris Coleman’s men as Ondrej Duda, who came off the substitutes’ bench to equalise last Saturday, started in attack.
Meanwhile, Russia named an unchanged team to the one that secured a late 1-1 draw against England on the same night.
Because of the bad weather, the roof at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy in north-eastern France was closed, meaning it was almost like a night game, and the match started without much quality or intensity.
The first good chance of the match came in the ninth minute when Napoli’s Marek Hamsik hit a fierce effort from the left side of the box just over Igor Akinfeev’s crossbar.
Jan Durica then hit a 30-yard free-kick well wide for the Slovakians, before Russia produced their first half-chance of the game.
Igor Smolnikov, who never stops running on the right-hand side, chipped in a cross that was met by the head of Artem Dzyuba, but he directed a weak header that was easy for Matus Kozacik to collect in the Slovakia goal.
Russia then went even closer to taking the lead just before the half-four mark, but Fyodor Smolov’s low shot from 20 yards grazed the post on its way wide.
Two minutes later, Slovakia took the lead and it was once again brilliant play by Hamsik, who produced a brilliant 45-yard pass into the path of Weiss down the inside-left channel, before the former Manchester City forward cut in on his right foot and curled past Akinfeev.
On the stroke of half-time, Hamsik then put the match beyond Russia with a stunning solo goal. The 28-year-old collected a short corner from Weiss, before cutting back onto his stronger right foot in the penalty area and curling a magnificent shot into the far corner from a tight angle, via the inside of the post.
Russia made a double substitution at the break with Glushakov and Pavel Mamaev replacing Roman Neustadter and Aleksandr Golovin in midfield.
It didn’t seem to have the desired effect though, and it was Slovakia that went closest to extending their lead ten minutes after the interval when Robert Mak hit a fierce shot at Akinfeev, who palmed the ball over the bar at the second attempt.
In the 66th minute, Russia did have a sight of goal when Smolov’s effort was brilliant blocked by Durica on the edge of the six-yard box.
Ten minutes from time, Leonid Slutsky’s men did get themselves back into the game when Glushakov headed into the far corner, but despite continuing to attack a nervy Slovakian defence, they couldn’t find the equaliser they needed.
Man of the Match: Marek Hamsik (Slovakia)
The best player on the pitch and, arguably, in Group B. The Napoli midfielder produced an brilliant long-range pass to set up Vladimir Weiss for Slovakia’s opening goal in Lille, before bettering that with a stunning curling finish from a tight angle that went in via the post to seal all three points for Jan Kozak’s side.
What’s Next: Russia will know that they need three points if they are to have any chance of qualifying when they play Wales in Toulouse on Monday night, while Slovakia will look to progress to the last 16 when they face England in Saint-Etienne at the same time.