Slovakia, who play England at the Riverside on Wednesday, entertain Turkey in Br
Slovakia, who play England at the Riverside on Wednesday, entertain Turkey in Bratislava on Saturday evening in a game of great significance to Sven-Göran Eriksson and the Three Lions. TheFA.com previews the action...
If Turkey fail to win their Group Seven fixture in Slovakia on Saturday evening, then England head coach Sven-Göran Eriksson can begin to dream of travelling to Istanbul for next October's crucial Euro 2004 qualifier with at least an enticing three-point lead over the Turks.
At the same time, a win for Senol Günes's World Cup semi-finalists in Slovakia would immediately transfer the pressure back on to England's shoulders ahead of their own vital qualifier this Wednesday as Turkey would then hold a two-point cushion over David Beckham's side.
As the group currently stands going into this qualifying double header, leaders England are a point ahead of Turkey with all the leading protagonists having played four matches, while in third place chasing the runners-up spot and a place in the play-offs are Slovakia, three points behind Turkey and four adrift of England.
And Slovakia coach Ladislav Jurkemik recently stated that "only a victory against Turkey will keep our chances alive. If we can win in Bratislava, the game in Middlesbrough becomes interesting."
The two countries met last year, with Turkey experiencing few problems as they strolled to a comfortable 3-0 home win, although as England will testify to, Bratislava can be an intimidating place to go and play football.
Jurkemik named a 20-man squad last week for Saturday's fixture and the trip to Middlesbrough and has included 17 foreign-based players amongst the group, including Boro striker Szilard Németh, who is sure to be leading the line following a good end to the Premiership season for his club and former West Ham United left-back Vladimír Labant, but Blackburn Rovers's recent acquisition Vratislav Greško has not been selected. Also left out are goalkeeper Juraj Bucek, defenders Branislav Labant and Radoslav Zabavník, and forwards Henrich Bencík and Jozef Kožlej.
For the visitors, under-pressure coach Günes has selected a 24-man squad for his side's two games, the second of which is also this Wednesday, at home to F.Y.R. Macedonia, including two players being called up for the first time, goalkeeper Murat Sahin and forward Okan Yilmaz.
However he must do without injured duo Ilhan Mansiz and Hasan Sas and this week he lost two further players through injury when Sergen Yalçin and Fatih Tekke both withdrew from the squad, the former with a knee complaint and the latter with a calf strain.
Günes, who has watched his team lose their last two matches, 2-0 to England and more recently 4-0 to the Czech Republic in a friendly in Prague, has said that "our target is to win all our remaining matches and finish first in the group" and there have been suggestions this week that he will recall former captain Hakan Sükür to partner in-form Real Sociedad striker Nihat Kahveci in attack.
Other players the coach will be relying upon to help produce the goods will be Bayer Leverkusen playmaker Yildiray Bastürk and the Internazionale pairing of Emre Belözoglu and Okan Buruk.
Slovakia have this week dubbed the fixture as 'the match of the year' for them and if they were to spring a surprise on Saturday night, then it wouldn't just be those in Bratislava who'd be cheering.
by Richard Morgan
König, Rzeszoto, Petráš, Klimpl, Hlinka, Debnár, Zeman, Hanek, Leitner, Karhan, Michalík, Labant, Kisel, Mintál, Janocko, Demo, Németh, Vittek, Oravec, Reiter
Rüstü, Fatih, Ömer, Murat, Sergen, Ibrahim, Ahmet, Bülent, Ergün, Volkan, Deniz, Servet, Alpay, Fatih Tekke, Okan Yilmaz, Tugay, Hakan Sükür, Okan Buruk, Emre, Tayfun, Nihat, Yildiray, Fatih Sonkaya