Slovakia have their first win of the European Championships after a 2-1 triumph over Russia. Two moments of brilliance from Marek Hamsik were enough to survive a late scare from their opponents.
Slovakia were eager to get their first points of the tournament against Russia on Wednesday. They were unlucky to leave Saturday's 2-1 loss to Wales with no points, and their showdown with the Russians in Lille was their first chance to make up for it.
It was Russia, however, who looked in control early on. Leonid Slutsky's side looked calm in possession and Slovakia struggled to deal with the imposing size of the Russian squad. Central defense duo Vasili Berezutzski and Sergei Ignashevich were commanding in the air, while Zenit St. Petersburg striker Artyom Dzyuba's header nearly put Russia ahead around the 20 minute mark.
It was a key play from midfielder and captain Marek Hamsik, however, that turned the tide of the match. The Napoli playmaker picked out Vladimir Weiss with a long ball over the defense. Weiss cut back across goal and put a well-placed finish past Igor Akinfeev to make it 1-0 after 32 minutes.
The goal put the momentum firmly in Slovakia's favor. Russia began to cede control of the match, and just before the break, Hamsik produced a second moment of brilliance. With the ball on the left side of the Russian half, he turned and curled a shot across Akinfeev that pinged off the far post and into the net. A beautiful effort that gave Slovakia their second goal, with just their second shot on target.
Backs to the wall
Russia came out of the halftime break again controlling possession, but they struggled to do much with it in the final third.
It took until the 80th minute, when a Slovakian defensive error left Denis Glushakov wide open for a header in the box, for the Russians get on the scoresheet. Oleg Shatov's cross easily found the unmarked Glushakov in the box to make it 2-1.
The goal made for a tense final 10 minutes. More than once, Russia produced a moment of a danger for the Slovakian back line. But Jan Kozak's side held on for the victory - their first ever at a European Championship.
With their first three points of the tournament in the bag, Slovakia's knockout round hopes are very much alive as they head into final group stage match against England on Monday. Russia, however, have the cards very much stacked against them with just a point after two matches. They face Wales next, also on Monday.