Stanislav Sestak

How do you feel about the World Cup finals? It’s the first time ever that Slovakia has reached the World Cup finals as an independent nation and I’m very proud to be a member of the squad. Of course, we qualified as Czechoslovakia, but since independence we have failed to qualify every time since 1998.

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To reach South Africa was a big achievement because we had to overcome our neighbours Poland, Slovenia and the Czech Republic to do it, plus Northern Ireland. It was a very tough group, but we managed to win it and I was fortunate to score six goals in qualifying.

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What is your earliest World Cup memory?
USA in 1994. I probably watched more of that World Cup than any other. Watching the games, I realised that I wanted to be a professional footballer. I was entranced by the opening ceremony and the huge stadiums which were packed to capacity. It became my dream to play in the World Cup finals.

I loved watching Hristo Stoickov and Roberto Baggio – they were my favourites. Baggio was so different from the rest. His style, his image and the way he drew attention to himself impressed me. He scored a lot of goals. I don’t think Italy has had a player as important as him since.

I also have clear memories of 1998 because Croatia did so well. They are a small country, a Slavik country, and seeing them in the World Cup made me realise that Slovakia could one day reach the finals.

What are the expectations of your country in the World Cup?
People hope that we can qualify from our group. That would be a success for us. It will be a completely new experience for us. I assumed that it will be warm in South Africa, but it’s going to be the middle of winter and not at altitude. We will prepare for the competition at a similar altitude in Austria.

It’s good the tournament will stay in the same time zone, not just for the players but for the supporters at home, who will be able to watch games easily.

Slovakia will be expected to beat New Zealand…
They are probably the easiest team we could have drawn, but they were still good enough to reach the World Cup finals so they must have some quality. They will be considered the outsider, but we cannot underestimate them. It’s our first ever game in the World Cup finals and we want to get off to a winning start. It’s an excellent opportunity for us.

What about the other teams in your group?
Paraguay is our key game. It’s likely to be us or them for the second position in the group.

Everyone knows how tough Italy will be because they are one of the top teams in the world. We play them in the last group game and they will have probably qualified by this point. Maybe they will ease off a bit because they are through and maybe we can get a result and join them in the next stage.

What are Slovakia’s strengths?
We are very close-knit. We have an excellent goalkeeper, we do not concede many goals and we are fast on the counter attack. Against stronger opponents, the counter attack game will suit us. We did that well in our qualifying group and managed to get enough points to qualify. This is our main strength.

We are also confident. That comes from results. We managed to come first in a difficult qualifying group and that really boosted our self -esteem. We hope that we can take that advantage to the World Cup.

Which Slovakian player should we watch out for?
You will know Martin Skrtel, the defender at Liverpool. He’s strong in the air and aggressive. He’s excellent. Also, Vladimir Weiss, who has been at Manchester City for a long time. He is on loan at Bolton. He’s very young and still only 20, but he has a great future with our national team.

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