To get you ready for the drama that will start unfolding on June 11 in South Africa, The Star and The Full 90 will introduce you to the teams, the key performers, what to look for and what to expect in this year's Cup.If you're looking for a dark horse in the Group of Leisure, this might be your team.
SlovakiaGroup F THE BASICS
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Repre (No idea what it means)
Blue, White, Red
•How They Got Here:
Finished first in a tough European qualifying group that included Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Northern Ireland and Poland
•World Cup Pedigree:
8 World Cups ('34, '38, '54, '58, '62, '70, '82, '90) all as part of Czechoslovakia, runners-up twice ('34, '62), quarterfinalists twiceTHE PLOT
Living in the shadow of their former countrymen, the Czech Republic (both in soccer and hockey), can the Slovaks come out and stun the world with some attractive and technical football?THE DIRECTOR
The 45-year-old played for Czechoslovakia in the '90 World Cup and also earned 12 caps for Slovakia. Has the tough job of trying to lead the country in their first-ever World Cup and coaching his son, also Vladimir, who is a midfielder. (Just like Bob Bradley!)LEADING MAN
The young Napoli midfielder will orchestrate the Slovak attack and, despite being just 22, will be the team's captain. He's a rising star in Europe and will one day soon make his way to a European powerhouse. A drawback? Too much hair product and too many exclamation points in this video:SUPPORTING CAST
(forward, Lille) is the team's all-time leading scorer;Stanislav Sestak
(forward, Vfl Bochum - Germany) led the team in goals in qualifying, with 6, and needs to have a good Cup for Slovakia to progress;Vladamir Weiss
(midfielder, Manchester City) is the coach's son (sound familiar US fans?) and an attacking midfielder;Peter Pekarik
(left back, Wolfsburg) is Slovakia's best defender and is still young (23);Martin Skrtel
(defender, Liverpool) is known for his last-ditch and seemingly impossible tackles.LIKELY BREAKOUT STAR
The winger/attacking midfielder played this season for the Dutch side FC Twente, but his salary is paid by Chelsea, who value him as a prodigy. He's only 20 (along with Weiss, Hamsik and Sestak, this is a really young attacking core) and should make his name as a super sub. At least to start.THE LIKELY VILLAIN
Skrtel PRODUCTION NOTES
Slovakia has an abundance of midfielders and a short supply of strikers, making the 4-5-1 the most obvious solution. They attack a lot more than you'd think (scoring 22 goals in qualifying). But they aren't air-tight in the back.WHAT THEY'LL WEAR
IT'S SORTA LIKE...
Remember when Keanu Reeves was young and we thought he'd eventually grow into the whole "acting" thing? That's sort of the situation Slovakia finds itself in. They are young and inexperienced and no one really expects a lot of out them. Hopefully, they'll grow a into the whole "winning" thing better than Keanu did with acting.TRAILER
DO WHAT YOU WILL WITH THIS...
This is surprising: Slovakia leads the world in the percentage of its population that dies of heart disease.CRITICAL BLURBS
Anything is possible: A quarterfinal run or a first-round exit. ... Will struggle to break down Italy, but Paraguay and New Zealand shouldn't be an issue. The game with Paraguay likely determines which team moves on to the next round. ... Many European countries (cough Italy cough) would die to have a nucleus this young and talented. ... Watch out for this team in the 2012 European Championships, but a serious Cup run might be beyond them. ...Best-case scenario?
A second-round date with the Netherlands. ...Realistic prediction?
Falling to Italy and Paraguay, beating New Zealand and going home empty-handed.POSSIBLE HOLLYWOOD MOMENT
Too good to be true? A 3-3 draw with the Italians in the final game of the group stage with goal differential (which is almost certain to favor Slovakia) the only thing that separates first place from second? Yeah, probably.
Group A: South Africa
Group B: South Korea
Group C: Algeria
Group D: Serbia
Group E: Japan
Group F: New Zealand
, Slovakia, Paraguay,Italy
North Korea, Ivory Coast, Portugal, Brazil
Honduras, Chile, Switzerland, Spain
Sources: World Cup 2010 (by Steven D. Stark and Harrison Stark); ESPN and Soccernet.com; FIFA; CIA Factbook