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Nov 12, 2020 at 7.45pm UK at Windsor Park
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A closer look at Slovakia ahead of Northern Ireland clash

Slovakia needed a shoot-out to beat the Republic of Ireland and set up the date.

Northern Ireland's bid to reach a second consecutive European Championships will be settled on Thursday night in their Euro 2020 qualifying play-off final against Slovakia.

Last month's dramatic penalty shoot-out victory over Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo earned Ian Baraclough's side a home final against a Slovakia side who needed a shoot-out of their own to beat the Republic of Ireland.

Here, the PA news agency takes a closer look at Northern Ireland's opponents.

The manager

Bezprostredne po oficiálnom oznámení o jeho menovaní do funkcie reprezentačného trénera odpovedal Štefan Tarkovič na otázky.

Posted by Slovenský futbalový zväz on Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Remarkably, reaching the play-off final was not enough for Pavel Hapal to keep his job. Within days of the win over the Republic of Ireland, a surprise 3-2 home defeat to Israel in the Nations League prompted the Slovakian Football Association to show the Czech coach the door. Stefan Tarkovic has been placed in caretaker charge, bringing with him experience of having worked at Euro 2016 as an assistant to Jan Kozak. Having been in place for just a few weeks, it remains to be seen what sort of an impact Tarkovic can have – with questions over how much he might be able to, or want to, change things up given the short time frame.

Key players

Wales v Slovakia – UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifying – Group E – Cardiff City Stadium
Marek Hamsik has been training alone for the past month to ensure his availability (Darren Staples/PA)

Such is Marek Hamsik's determination to guide Slovakia to a second consecutive European Championships, the veteran playmaker has been training alone for the past month. Now contracted to Chinese Super League Club Dalian Pro, Hamsik gained permission from manager Rafael Benitez to remain in Europe in recent weeks, avoiding any threat of travel restrictions to focus purely on his preparations. The 33-year-old former Napoli man may not be quite the player he was at his peak, but his experience and guile remain key to Slovakia. Intriguingly, there is also a return for ex-Manchester City man Vladimir Weiss, back in the squad for the first time in two years. Having initially been ruled out due to the pandemic, Inter Milan's Milan Skriniar has belatedly joined up with the squad but ex-Liverpool man Martin Skrtel is missing with a muscle injury.

Route to the final

Slovakia v Republic of Ireland – UEFA Euro 2020 – Play-Offs – Semi Final – Narodny Futbalovy
The Republic of Ireland lost to Slovakia on penalties last month (Martin Baumann/PA)

Last month's penalty shoot-out victory over the Republic of Ireland was notable in that, for 120 minutes, Slovakia managed not to concede. It was only their second clean sheet in the last 18 months, the other coming in a 2-0 win over Azerbaijan in November last year. That was one of their four wins in the regular qualifying campaign as they beat both Hungary and Azerbaijan home and away, with a 1-1 draw at home to Wales their only other point.


Scotland v Slovakia – UEFA Nations League – Group 2 – League B – Hampden Park
Scotland beat Slovakia 1-0 in the Nations League last month (Steve Walsh/PA)

FIFA's world rankings currently shows Slovakia four places above Northern Ireland in 37th place in the world, but there is still a sense they travel to Belfast as second-favourites. Following the semi-final win over the Republic, back-to-back defeats to Scotland and Israel did for Hapal and left the team mired in a sense of pessimism. They have picked up only one point in their Nations League campaign to date, with Scotland their next opponents on Sunday.

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Paddy McNair pictured for Northern Ireland in September 2020
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Wednesday's key events

· Team GB have dominated the men's coxless fours in recent Olympics, winning on each of the last five occasions, but this year they face some stiff competition. They are one of four rowing medal contenders for Great Britain today (2.10am)

· Katie Ledecky and Ariarne Titmus face off again in the women's 200m freestyle final, with the latter having already come out on top in the 400m event (2.41am)
· Team GB's Abbie Wood is among the medal contenders in the women's 200m individual medley final, while teammate Alicia Wilson will also take part. USA's Kate Douglass was the fastest qualifier, while world and Olympic record holder Katinka Hosszu is also involved (3.45am)
· Katie Ledecky could make it two golds in one morning as she goes into the 1500m freestyle final as heavy favourite, having broken the Olympic record in qualifying (3.54am)
· Team GB were by far the fastest qualifiers for the men's 4x200m freestyle relay final and will therefore be favourites for another gold in the pool (4.26am)

· Team GB take on New Zealand in the first men's semi-final, having been beaten by reigning champions Fiji but then come from behind to overcome USA on day two (3am)
· The sevens gold medal match takes place at Tokyo Stadium, with the winner of Great Britain vs. New Zealand taking on either Argentina or Fiji (10am)

· Joe Fraser and James Hall compete for Team GB in the men's all-around final (11.15am-2.10pm)

· Anna Shackley will take part in the women's road time trial (from 3.30am)
· Geraint Thomas and Tao Geoghegan Hart have medal ambitions for Great Britain in the men's road time trial, although both will need to recover from the crash they suffered on Saturday (6am)

· Jack Laugher bids to retain his men's 3m synchro diving title alongside new partner Daniel Goodfellow (7am)

· Charlotte Dujardin will look to add to her already legendary status with a third successive Olympic individual dressage title (9.30am-1.25pm)

> Today's schedule in full
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