Slovakia surprise in Euro qualifying with first-ever win over Ukraine
Robert Mak was Slovakia’s match-winner as they recorded a surprise first-ever win over Ukraine to get their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign off to a perfect start.
With both of these sides expected to be fighting for second place behind Spain in Group C, Jan Kozak’s side drew first blood thanks to Mak’s cool finish at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev.
It was Slovakia’s first win over Ukraine at the fourth time of asking, having drawn two and lost one going into Monday night’s clash.
Ukraine, who are 22nd in FIFA’s world rankings, seized control early on but found it hard to convert their possession into clear goalscoring opportunities.
But just when it looked like they were completely on top, PAOK winger Mak stunned the crowd in Kiev by putting Slovakia in front after 17 minutes.
The 23-year-old drifted in off his wing and latched on to a superb through-ball from Marek Hamsik before showing great composure to take a touch through the legs of a defender, steady himself and coolly stroke it past Andrei Pyatov at the Ukraine keeper’s near post.
The hosts, who only just missed out on this summer’s World Cup after being beaten in their play-off with France, began to rush things as they searched for an equalizer, with Andriy Yarmolenko twice hacking shots wide from distance.
And it was the Slovakians who came closer to doubling their advantage when Peter Pekarik’s pot-shot from 25 yards forced a scrambling Pyatov to tip it round a post to keep it 1-0 at the interval.
Goalmouth action was at a premium after the break, but Hamsik blazed over from inside the box to waste a good opportunity to make it 2-0 in the 58th minute.
Mykhaylo Fomenko’s side threw everything at Slovakia in their pursuit of an equalizer, but they continued to be restricted to half-chances and long range efforts as Slovakia held firm.
Pyatov went forward for a late corner and scrambled the ball into the net, but the whistle had already gone for his foul on opposite number Matus Kozacik.