Skrtel: Anonymity key to Slovak success

LONDON - Martin Skrtel, tall, shaven-headed and tattooed, is one of the few familiar faces in the Slovakia team. The Liverpool defender believes this lack of big names could be the World Cup debutants' biggest weapon.

The central European team surprised many by winning their qualifying group which featured more established sides such as neighbours Czech Republic and Poland to reach the football showpiece for the first time as an independent state.

"As there are no big stars, we try to play like a team, everybody pulls together," Skrtel, much more softly spoken than his on-pitch persona would indicate, told Reuters in a telephone interview.

"Some people might say we can't do anything because we don't have players in the big teams...The main reason we qualified for the World Cup is that we play like a team. Everyone is happy they can play for Slovakia, that is the reason."

Another reason for their success is the talent of Skrtel, who cuts an imposing figure at the heart of defence with his no-nonsense approach and tough tackling.

HARD MAN

"I'm a defender, I have to be hard," he said. "In my private life I am the opposite to what I am on the pitch. In my private life I'm really quiet and nice...I'm completely different on the pitch."

The Slovaks have been drawn alongside Paraguay, New Zealand and world champions Italy in Group F for the tournament in South Africa starting on June 11.

"It's not an easy group but it's not the hardest," said 25-year-old Skrtel. "I think it is good for us we play New Zealand first.

"It's important to get three points in that game and then we will see. It's a big thing that we qualified, now I think we can do something good."

He added that Italy had become a more beatable side.

"In the last World Cup they were in top form. Now they have a lot of senior or older players, they still have quality and I think it will be very difficult for us but in football you never know," he said.

Skrtel said his experience playing at centre-back in the Premier League and Champions League had helped him prepare for the pressures of a World Cup.

However, a foot injury that has sidelined him for two months has hampered him physically. He hopes to return to training with Liverpool in the next couple of weeks and play a couple of matches before the end of the season.

"It's a very long time I didn't play, it's two months to the World Cup but I hope I can get my good form and I can be ready for the World Cup."

Skrtel said Napoli midfielder Marek Hamsik and Besiktas striker Filip Holosko could be the key players for Slovakia but added that the tournament would be a chance for others to showcase their talent and get snapped up by some big clubs.

"Almost nobody knows the Slovakia team or Slovak players, I hope that after the World Cup everybody will know how good we are," said Skrtel.

"It's a great chance for all our players because everybody is watching the World Cup, a lot of agents, a lot of managers. I will be very happy if due to the World Cup players in our team will play for good teams in Europe."

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