Ahead of today’s crucial clash between Slovakia and England at the ongoing Euro2016 Championship, Martin Skrtel has warned that there will be no friendship on the pitch between him and his Liverpool teammates appearing for the Three Lions.
The combative Slovakia captain has been with Liverpool since 2008 and is something of an expert on his side’s final group opponents, given that he shares a dressing room with England squad members Adam Lallana, Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge.
“It’s not a normal situation for me, but we’re professionals and it’s all part of the job,” said the centre-half. “Everyone will be giving their all for their team and doing their very best to win the game.”
So will the man that Reds fans like to call “Terminator” be making his legendary physical presence felt against his club colleagues? “Always!” smiled the 6’3 (1.91m) stopper, who has just endured a frustrating club season marred by injuries and a lack of playing time.
“We’ll see what happens. I know them and they know me, though there’s more to the match than just that. It’s a game between two nations, and England have got one of the best teams in the world. In a match like this there are no such things as friends. You can maybe be friends before or after the game, but not on the pitch,” observed the Slovakia skipper.
Though an admirer of Sturridge, who secured England’s late win against Wales and is regarded by Skrtel as a “great player”, there is no question of the 31-year-old defender focusing solely on his club-mate or whoever else may form the opposition front line today. “There’s not just Sturridge, Jamie Vardy or Harry Kane. There are not just the strikers and the midfielders. There are 11 players we have to beat.”
Skrtel is well aware that Slovakia would be ill-advised to focus their attention on the individual gifts of England’s stars. The eastern Europeans, who have nothing to lose on what is their first EURO appearance, will continue to bank on their strengths, as their skipper explained: “The smaller countries have probably got more team spirit, especially when they come up against the big countries.
“The pressure will be on the English, though I think they have enough experience to be able to handle it,” said the four-time Slovakian player of the year. “It’s all going to come down to what happens on the pitch, and I think we can reproduce our performance against Russia. We showed heart, character and motivation.”
Even in pointing to the qualities of Slovakia’s attacking linchpin Marek Hamsik, who came up with an assist and a goal against Russia, Skrtel nevertheless preferred to put the accent on the team cause. “He did more than just score. He worked for the team for 90 minutes. He played very well and he’s a very important figure for us.”
While the England rearguard may be short of inside information on the elusive Hamsik, captain Skrtel knows everything he needs to know about the men he will be marking today.