Slovakia host Belarus in League C Group 3 of the UEFA Nations League on Sunday.
There is little importance attached to the fixture, with the visitors already relegated and the hosts unable to claim top spot.
Indeed, having been relegated from League B last time out, Slovakia would have expected to bounce straight back as one of the highest-ranked nations in the Nations League’s third tier.
Instead, they have performed pretty dismally, taking only six points from five matches to sit below Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan in the group.
Former Napoli assistant manager Francesco Calzona was drafted in as Stefan Tarkovic’s permanent replacement in the dugout last month, but the Italian failed to make a positive impact in his first game in charge on Thursday, losing 2-1 to Azerbaijan to fall to third in League C Group 3.
The Falcons looked to have snatched a point when Erik Jirka converted a penalty in injury-time, but Azerbaijan were not to be denied their first competitive victory on the road for more than two years, with Hojjat Haghverdi scoring a dramatic winner in the 95th minute.
For a nation that has qualified for each of the last two European Championship’s, Slovakia’s dramatic dip in standards will have their fans feeling understandably concerned, meaning there is significant pressure on Calzona to ensure that he picks up his first win against Belarus on Sunday and restore a fraction of morale within the dressing room.
Belarus, meanwhile, had their relegation to the Nations League’s bottom tier confirmed after a 2-1 defeat away to Kazakhstan on Thursday.
Pavel Savitski gave the visitors hope by equalising in first half injury-time, but Bakhtiyar Zaynutdinov’s late strike sealed his side’s promotion at Belarus’ expense.
As a result, the White Wings will compete against the likes of San Marino and Liechtenstein during the next Nations League campaign, although perhaps a better opportunity to rack up some wins may be precisely what the nation needs in order to rebuild for the future.
Whether Georgy Kondratyev is retained as the manager to oversee that process remains to be seen, with avoiding defeat in Slovakia on Sunday only likely to enhance his chances of doing so.
Slovakia Nations League form:
Slovakia form (all competitions):
Belarus Nations League form:
Belarus form (all competitions):
We say: Slovakia 2-0 Belarus
We expect Slovakia to earn their first win of the Calzona era, but it is unlikely to be pretty.
Belarus will not want to go down without a fight, and they are rarely heavily beaten despite their poor form of late.