ISTANBUL - Despair at watching his native Czechoslovakia crash out of the 1990 World Cup to West Germany in the quarter-finals sent six-year-old Filip Holosko into a rage.
"I got crazy, I hit the television. We lost the game on a penalty. I was swearing," laughs Holosko who is now a composed six-foot forward for Slovakia and tipped to be a key player in their first World Cup finals appearance.
It is a bitter memory for Holosko as Slovakia look to make their mark on the field as an independent state.
"Czechoslovakia separated in 1993, and after that the only successful team were the Czechs, while we Slovaks didn't have any success - until this year," he said.
Slovakia defied the odds to top a qualifying group featuring the Czech Republic and Poland. They now face Paraguay, New Zealand and world champions Italy in Group F at the tournament in South Africa starting on June 11.
Holosko scored a qualifying goal against Northern Ireland before suffering a broken leg last September during a Champions League tie against CSKA Moscow, which put him out of action for three months.
"Recovering from every injury is difficult. But more difficult than recovering is returning to form on the field. I believe that my best form after the injury could be in the World Cup," he said.
Speaking to Reuters at the training ground of his Istanbul club Besiktas, he cuts a relaxed figure.
"I don't feel any pressure whatsoever, I'm happy to be taking part. I think right now the greatest pressure is on our trainer because he must choose the best 23 players... it is quite a heavy job for him."
Vladimir Weiss, a former Czechoslovakia international and part of the 1990 World Cup team Holosko watched as a boy, took over as manager in 2008 and is widely credited with turning around their fortunes.
Holosko, like team-mate Martin Skrtel, believes the Slovaks' anonymity could be an advantage.
"As nobody knows anything about us everything we do will be a surprise. Right now we don't have an exact goal, but our main aim is to play good football and bring colour to the World Cup."
Asked to identify the team's strengths, Holosko said he believed they were a very well balanced side.
"I wouldn't single out our forwards, defence or midfield as a strength. But I think our greatest asset is our goalkeeper Jan Mucha, he helped us quite a lot in the group games, and I think this will continue during the world cup."
In South Africa, Slovakia will face New Zealand first.
"The first game is the most important one. If we win our first game we will start believing and everything will be easy for us," Holosko said.
"We are expected to win the game against New Zealand and it will be a balanced game against Paraguay. You win the first game and then you grow in confidence."comments