Wales kick-off their historic Euro 2016 campaign on Saturday against Slovakia in Bordeaux, where they will be looking to prove they’re not just in France to make up the numbers.
It’s the first major tournament for the Welsh national team in 58 years and their first ever appearance at a European Championships, just as it is for the Slovakians since they became an independent nation.
Both sides are more than capable of grabbing second in the group which also includes England and Russia, meaning this game is vital for both nations – a win for either side could really kick-start a momentous campaign.
Chris Coleman’s men qualified with relative ease from what seemed a challenging group at first look. Had they not been beaten by Bosnia in their penultimate group game, they may well have finished top of the group ahead of Belgium, the recently top ranked team in international football. Indeed, the games against the Belgians were the highlights of Wales’ campaign – a draw away before a 1-0 win at home proved their ability to match the best sides.
Meanwhile, Slovakia also managed second place in their qualifying campaign, surprising the majority that saw Ukraine as the likely runners-up to Spain in Group C. Their highlight of qualifying came with a 2-1 win over defending European champions Spain in Zilina, the only defeat inflicted on the Spaniards in the group.
This clash will be just the third competitive meeting between the two countries, with each side taking a win each in the previous encounters in Euro 2008 qualifying. Both sides won away from home in emphatic fashion, with Slovakia winning 5-1 in Cardiff in a game where Gareth Bale netted his first ever international goal, whilst Wales won 5-2 in Trnava.
Joe Ledley has been declared fit for Wales after fracturing his fibula a month ago, but he has played no football in that time, along with Reading’s Hal Robson-Kanu, who has an Achilles problem. Joe Allen is expected to be fit having shaken off a knee injury but it seems unlikely that all three players will be risked, which could mean starts for Sam Vokes and Andy King.
Slovakia have no major injury concerns ahead of the game and are expected to be captained by Liverpool’s Martin Skrtel. Napoli playmaker Marek Hamsik will be at the centre of things for them, whilst Manchester City and Rangers fans will recognise the name of Vladimir Weiss, who will likely come off the bench.
FIFA World Ranking: Wales – 26th; Slovakia – 24th
Best European Championship Finish: First appearance for both.
Previous Meeting: Slovakia 2-5 Wales (September 12, 2007 – Euro 2008 Qualifier)
Form: Wales – LWLDLL; Slovakia – WDDWWD
Key Men: Wales – Gareth Bale; Slovakia – Marek Hamsik
Shoot Says: Wales 1-0 Slovakia