by LIAM RICHNER
Russia 1-2 Slovakia, Group B
In a game where many were keeping a close eye on the Russian supporters inside the Stade Pierre-Mauroy, it was Napoli star Marek Hamsik that caught the attention with a man of the match performance, as Slovakia defeated Russia 2-1.
The midfielder set up the opening goal of the match with a 40-yard pass to Vladimir Weiss on 32 minutes, before doubling Slovakia’s lead with an unstoppable shot that cannoned in courtesy of the post just before half time.
Denis Glushakov scored for Russia with 10 minutes left to set up a tense final ten minutes, but the Slovakians held on for three crucial points as they hunt for qualification to the last 16.
The game itself was a slow burner for the first twenty minutes, with chances coming at a premium, but it was Russia who had the first real effort on goal of the match after 20 minutes.
Igor Smolnikov found plenty of space to whip in a cross from the right, which was met by front man Artem Dzyuba, but his header was tame and easy for goalkeeper Matúš Kozáčik.
Slovakia then took the lead just after the half hour hark after Hamsik was given time and space to look up and spot the smart run by Weiss down the left and the former Manchester City winger cut inside and slotted home.
Hamsik was again in the thick of it, as he danced around the edge of the Russian penalty box before blasting a shot just wide of the goal.
It wasn’t long until he did put his name on the scoresheet after a quick instinctive corner kick from Weiss fell to Hamsik at the near post and, like the first, he cut in on his right foot and smashed the ball in off the post.
It was almost three nil in the second half but Róbert Mak saw his effort clawed away by Igor Akinfeev.
With Russia needing to get back into the game, they started to press higher up the pitch and it paid off, with Glushakov finding the net with a neat header following a well worked one-two on the left by Oleg Shatov.
Glushakov almost doubled his tally for the game and equalised for Russia but his shot from 18 yards dragged wide of the goal.
As the final whistle went, Slovakia celebrated their first ever victory at a European Championship finals and now have a good shot at finishing third, should they get a decent result against England.
Russia are now bottom of the group and will have to improve offensively against the Welsh, as nothing short of all 3 points will be enough.
The Russian crowd seemed to have acted better than in Marseille at the weekend although a flare once again somehow made it’s way past security and into the stadium. It will now be interesting to see how the fans act outside the stadium and in the city before their final group match.