Slovakia wary of Wales world-beater Bale ahead of Euro 2016 clash


Bordeaux (AFP) – Slovakia coach Jan Kozak and star player Marek Hamsik lauded Gareth Bale as “one of the best players in the world” on Friday, but warned against focusing only on him.

Real Madrid forward Bale, the world’s most expensive player, will be the centre of attention at Stadium Bordeaux on Saturday when Wales launch their Euro 2016 campaign against Group B rivals Slovakia.

The 26-year-old scored seven and created two of the 11 goals Wales scored in qualifying and arrived in France fresh from winning his second Champions League title with Madrid.

“He’s a top player, not just for Wales, and one of the best players in the world,” Kozak told his pre-match press conference.

“Now he’s in great form and he’s physically very fit. I’m a Real Madrid fan, so I’ve watched every match, but we are a team who want to succeed with team spirit.

“We respect him, but Wales is not just about Gareth Bale because football is a team game. They have other players who play in top English teams.”

Slovakia have a talisman of their own in playmaker Hamsik, their top scorer in qualifying with five goals, but the Napoli captain played down suggestions that the match will be a shoot-out between him and Bale.

“I think Gareth is one of the best players in the world,” said the 28-year-old, echoing his coach.

“I wouldn’t like to compare myself to him. It won’t be a match between Gareth Bale and Marek Hamsik. It will be between Wales and Slovakia.

“Football is a team sport and it’s about team spirit and good team performance. We’re really excited because a lot of time has passed since we qualified and we can’t wait.”

Slovakia, unbeaten in eight matches, had a doubt over left-back Tomas Hubocan, who has been struggling with a heel problem, but Kozak said that he had a fully fit squad to choose from.

He also suggested that his starting XI will be similar to the teams aligned in the recent 3-1 win over world champions Germany and 0-0 draw with Northern Ireland.

“I won’t reveal the starting XI,” he said. “But those of you who’ve followed Slovakia’s last matches, you can see the starting XI has been quite clear and established, so we won’t make any changes.”

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