11 things Wales fans should know about Slovakia and Slovakians


You should always know your opposition, so here's a little guide to Slovakia - the football team and the country - ahead of Wales' Euro 2016 opener.

1. It's their first Euro finals...

Marek Hamsik celebrates Slovakia's qualification for Euro 2016

Slovakia have reached their first European Championship finals at the sixth attempt, having made their debut as a young nation in the qualifying rounds of Euro 96 - so it will be a battle between two first-timers in Bordeaux. The "Slovak Falcons" did reach the 2010 World Cup finals, beating reigning champions Italy 3-2 before losing to eventual runners-up the Netherlands in the last 16.

2. ...but 15 Slovaks have Euro winners' medals

Czechoslovakia line up before the 1976 European Championship final

The title of 1976 European champions now sits on the Czech Republic's honours board, but the Czechoslovakia team that beat West Germany on penalties was dominated by players from the southern part of the country. Eight of the starting 11, including captain Anton Ondrus, were born in what is now Slovakia, along with seven other members of the victorious squad. At least the Czechs can say Antonin Panenka, who scored the winning goal with the coolest penalty of all time, is one of theirs.

3. They're not Czech!

A map of the Czech Republic and Slovakia

Like Canadians and New Zealanders, Slovaks spend a lot of time explaining that they aren't their larger, better-known neighbours. Slovakia has been an independent state since January 1, 1993, following the so-called Velvet Divorce from the Czech Republic.

4. A dash of intrigue

A Slovakian flag

Like many warring couples, the Czechs and the Slovaks finally fell out over something seemingly trivial - a hyphen. In 1990, Slovak politicians demanded that a dash be added to the country's name to create Czecho-Slovakia. The Czechs held firm and a resultant rise in Slovak patriotism led to the split and the foundation of the two republics in 1993. There has been a reconciliation of sorts: the two nations' singers, dancing dogs and assorted oddballs compete on Cesko Slovensko Ma Talent, their cross-border version of Simon Cowell's Got Talent franchise.

5. Don't mention the war

Columns of Hlinka Guards marching through the streets of Bratislava

Independence was a long time coming for Slovakia - it was part of the Hungarian Empire for more than 1,000 years before being incorporated into Czechoslovakia in 1919. A Slovak Republic existed as a puppet state of Nazi Germany between 1939 and 1945, during which time they has their own football team, which even beat Germany - one of the few teams that would play them - 2-0. In unrelated news, the Slovak Euro 2016 training base is in Vichy.

6. Euro files

Euro notes and coins

While Wales fans in France scrabble desperately through their strange coins before handing the whole lot over to the Bordeaux barman to count out for himself, Slovaks will confidently hand over the right amount like natives - the country has used the Euro since 2008, when it replaced the old Slovak crown. Take advantage of their local knowledge by getting them to buy the drinks - "Pivo, prosim" should do the trick, followed by a hearty "Na zdravie!"

7. Selfie schtick

Tourists use a selfie stick for photographs

The adoption of the Euro prompted many large technology and services companies to move their central European headquarters to the Slovak capital, Bratislava. The Slovaks are now so digitally advanced that they even have their own word for selfie - "svojka" will surely come in handy for those friendly pre-match fan photos.

8. Name day

A sign reading:

If you meet anyone called Dobroslava or Barnabas out in Bordeaux before or after the game, wish them "Vsetko najlepsie k meninam" - a happy name day! Every day in the Slovak calendar has one or two names assigned to it, when everyone with that name gets a card, a cake and a party, just like a second birthday, except no-one has to know how old you are. Welsh fans should note that David's names day doesn't come round till December 30 in Slovakia.

9. Famous Slovaks

Peter Sagan celebrates after winning the UCI Elite Men's Road World Championship Cycling race

The words "Tom Jones", "Ryan Giggs" and now "Gareth Bale" have opened plenty of conversational doors for the travelling Welsh, but whose names do Slovaks drop to stress that they're neither Czech nor Slovenian? World cycling champion Peter Sagan and footballers Martin Skrtel, Marek Hamsik and Vladimir Weiss would be recognised by sports devotees, likewise Dr Josef Venglos, who started something when he became English football's first overseas manager when he took charge of Aston Villa in 1990. How about Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman, born in Komarno before emigrating to Canada aged 4? Or Martina Hingis, the tabloids' Swiss Miss who was actually a Slovak Smasher, having been born Martina Hingisova in the eastern city of Kosice.

10. Famous not-quite-Slovaks

Andy Warhol in 1987

Other Slovak progeny had to cross the Atlantic to make it big. Andy Warhol might never have enjoyed his 15 minutes of fame had his parents, born in Mikova, not emigrated to the US in 1914. Hollywood legend Paul Newman had Slovak grandparents, musicians Jon Bon Jovi and Dave Grohl are both of Slovak descent, while Angelina Jolie's Slavic good looks have obviously been passed down from her great-grandparents, who hailed from Kosice.

11. Secondary sports

Miroslav Satan playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins

If Slovakia do struggle at Euro 2016, the country's sports nuts won't be too downhearted - Sagan will be making his annual tilt at the Tour de France in July followed by a crack at Olympic gold in Rio, where the Slovak canoe slalom team will be hoping to add to the 16 medals won in the sport since 1996. Ice hockey is the Slovaks real sporting passion - the nation turned out to greet their world champions in 2002 and a number of Slovaks, including the devilishly good Miroslav Satan, have plied their trade in America's NHL.