Preview: Slovakia vs. Portugal

Preview: Slovakia vs. Portugal

A top-of-the-table clash in Euro 2024 qualifying Group J takes place at Tehelne Pole in Bratislava on Friday night, as Slovakia play host to Portugal.

Roberto Martinez’s side have taken 12 points from 12 on offer during an unblemished start to proceedings, while their hosts are only two points worse off and could usurp their more esteemed rivals with a maximum this week.

On the hunt for a third successive appearance at the European Championship finals, Slovakia – who progressed to the last 16 in 2016 before a group-stage elimination at the delayed 2020 edition – have cemented their position in the top two of Group J as widely expected.

A goalless draw at home to Luxembourg represented a solid if not sensational start to their latest qualifying venture, but Francesco Calzona’s side have since come up trumps against Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iceland and Liechtenstein, conceding just one goal along the way.

The manner of their victories against Iceland and Liechtenstein was hardly emphatic, though, as they edged past the former 2-1 before relying on a header from defender Denis Vavro to get over the line against Liechtenstein – a nation ranked 153 places lower than them.

Results will certainly take precedence over performances for head coach Calzona, though, as his side sit three points clear of Luxembourg in the second qualifying spot, and there will be no Nations League reprieve for the world’s 47th-ranked nation should they drop out of the top two.

A seven-game unbeaten run will stand Slovakia in good stead, and the Falcons have managed to keep clean sheets in each of their last four European qualifying contests, but not since 2015 have they strung together a four-game winning streak across all tournaments.

Intent on spoiling the Slovakian party, Portugal boss Roberto Martinez had big shoes to fill when Euro 2016-winning boss Fernando Santos was lured to Poland, but the former Everton and Belgium head coach could hardly have wished for a better start to life in the dugout.

From their four opening fixtures with Bosnia-Herzegovina, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein and Iceland, Portugal have accumulated 12 points and 14 goals while keeping the back door bolted shut at the other end, amassing four clean sheets to boot.

It was hardly a vintage display from the Selecao when they made a stopover in Iceland three months ago, but on his 200th appearance for the national team, Cristiano Ronaldo made the net ripple for the 123rd time in international football to propel his side to a 1-0 triumph.

Only France and Hungary can also boast perfect defensive records in Euro 2024 qualifying, while their total of 14 goals scored makes them the second-most prolific nation in the groups behind England (15), and their overall winning streak in Euro qualification matches stands at a respectable six.

From their last 19 matches at this level, Portugal have suffered just the one defeat – away to Ukraine in 2019 – and they have already come through four meetings with Slovakia without suffering defeat, most recently prevailing 2-0 in a 2006 World Cup qualifier during which Ronaldo scored the Selecao’s second of the afternoon.

Slovakia Euro Champ Qualifying form:

Slovakia form (all competitions):

Portugal Euro Champ Qualifying form:

Portugal form (all competitions):

We say: Slovakia 0-2 Portugal
Neither Slovakia nor Portugal have proven easy to break down in the embryonic stages of qualifying, and the Selecao will face their toughest test yet in Bratislava, despite making hard work of their recent success over Iceland.

A distinct lack of firepower could prove to be the hosts’ undoing, though, as Portugal make it five from five in style, likely with another clean sheet to add to the collection.

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