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Painful deja vu as Slovakia punished by Ukraine

SLOVAKIA coach Francesco Calzona said there had been no celebrating after his side’s shock opening win over Belgium as “nothing has been achieved” and he was proved prescient as his team were brought down to earth with a 2-1 defeat to Ukraine.

It was all going so well for Slovakia on Friday as Ivan Schranz’s goal after 17 minutes gave them a lead that, if held, would have sent them through to the Round of 16 with a game to spare.

They were the better team until the goal but then handed over the initiative to a Ukraine side showing five changes from the team thumped by Romania in their first game.

Even when Ukraine levelled through Mykola Shaparenko after 54 minutes, Slovakia were looking good to progress with four points.

With the ghosts of Euro 2020 on their shoulder, it was therefore no surprise that they were doing all they could to slow the game down.

Three years ago they opened with a win over Poland and were looking good to collect four points as they were drawing with Sweden before a late penalty beat them. A 5-0 thrashing by Spain then followed, which left them on three points but with a poor goal difference and they failed to progress.

On Friday they seemed determined not to be caught out again, sitting deeper and deeper after the equaliser and virtually abandoning any attempt to get forward themselves.

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Every throw-in, free kick and substitution took an age and even the medical staff joined in. When called on by the ref to treat an injured player they devised some sort of pitter-patter run technique that looked as if they were in a hurry but actually propelled them at the speed of a comfortable walk.

However, it all went wrong when Roman Yaremchuk poked Ukraine ahead 10 minutes from time and Slovakia’s subsequent reawakening could not fix the damage and they were left to rue their safety-first policy.

All is by no means lost for Slovakia, however, as a win in their last game against Romania will see them safely through.

Ukraine are likely to have to get something from their game against Belgium to progress, but the group remains wide open.

Should Belgium beat Romania on Saturday all four teams would go into the final round of fixtures on three points. Two more draws would mean one of them becoming the first team to miss out on progress on four points since the knockout phase was expanded to 16 teams in 2016.