Key man Hamsik carrying knee injury

SLOVAKIAN playmaker Marek Hamsik has no more than a 50-50 chance of featuring in tonight’s European Championship clash against the Republic of Ireland, according to his manager Vladimir Weiss.

The highly-rated Napoli man, who was linked with both Chelsea and AC Milan before the transfer window closed on Wednesday night, has been struggling with a knee injury which Giovanni Trapattoni said yesterday had required injections.

That came as something of a surprise to Weiss yesterday evening, although he did say earlier this week that Hamsik had informed him as recently as last Sunday that he could hardly walk after scoring against Palermo in a friendly four days before.

“You obviously have more information from Italy than I do,” said the Slovak coach of his Italian counterpart’s grapevine. I always only put fully fit players on the pitch. If Marek says after training that he is all right then he will play.”

Slovakia were due to have that final run out immediately after last night’s press briefing but, whatever about Hamsik, it was confirmed that reserve goalkeeper Marian Kello and defender Tomas Hubocan will play no part in the qualifier.

Hamsik’s loss, if it happens, would be a blow for the visitors but Weiss faced Ireland 11 months ago without defender Martin Skrtel, defensive midfielder Zdeno Strba and all-time top scorer Robert Vittek while winger Miroslav Stoch could only manage 20 minutes. Despite all that, he was outspoken in his belief beforehand that Slovakia would collect all three points in Zilina and he was similarly upbeat about his chances yesterday, even when it was pointed out that Ireland have kept five consecutive clean sheets.

“It will be very hard but I do believe there can be some goals even though the Irish defence has been tough in the last few games. I believe we will manage. Success will be a win. We have to respect their qualities but use our own strengths.”

Skrtel was quoted yesterday insisting a draw would be more than enough for him and the Slovaks, who finish the group with home games against Armenia and Russia before wrapping matters up with a trip to Macedonia.

Whatever transpires on Lansdowne Road, Weiss claimed the group would not be decided by the games held in Dublin, Moscow and Zilina over the course of the next four days.

“This game is very important. It will say a lot but all three teams have the same chance.”

Most of what Weiss said was actually lost in translation yesterday evening but there was no mistaking his suspicion that Trapattoni may have been pulling a fast one by declaring a preference for Shane Long ahead of Kevin Doyle.

“I have some information about Kevin Doyle and if he has Long on the pitch that is his decision. Long is a good player in excellent form after scoring several goals. We will see tomorrow about the line-up.”

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