Both Slovakia and Northern Ireland are in magnificent form as they prepare to meet in their final warm-up match for Euro 2016 in Trnava on Saturday.
Preparation for the tournament in France could not have gone much better for either side over recent months.
Hosts Slovakia recorded a stunning 3-1 win over world champions Germany in Augsburg last Sunday, extending their unbeaten run to seven matches as they prepare to take on England, Russia and Wales in Group B.
Northern Ireland, meanwhile, defeated Belarus 3-0 last Friday, ensuring their own streak without suffering a defeat sits at a stunning 11 games.
Those runs are reflected in the latest FIFA rankings, which see Slovakia surge up eight places to 24 and Northern Ireland up one place to 25 – the highest Michael O’Neill’s nation have ever sat.
O’Neill’s men have a tough challenge to emerge from Group C, which contains Germany, Poland and Ukraine, but the performance of Manchester United’s Paddy McNair in an unfamiliar midfield role during the win over Belarus is one of many reasons for optimism.
“Paddy has great versatility,” O’Neill said to the Belfast Telegraph. “We started him in the holding midfield role against Belarus and in the second half when Steven Davis came off we pushed him further forward because he’s capable of doing that.
“He looks very comfortable playing at this level despite his inexperience at club level.
“He’s trying to get into a side at United full of world-class midfield players, midfield players that his club have paid huge amounts of money for, so it’s a difficult scenario for him, but he’s been great for us.
“He doesn’t just give us versatility, he gives us real quality. He’s powerful, he can cover the ground, he has pace to get away from people and, most importantly, he’s just a good footballer.
“You see it every day in training, he plays well, he trains well, he applies himself well.”
Along with McNair, captain Steven Davis and West Brom defender Jonny Evans are the country’s highest-profile players, with veterans Aaron Hughes and Gareth McAuley offering a wealth of international experience.
Slovakia’s squad is one with greater star power, though, with Napoli’s Marek Hamsik, Liverpool’s Martin Skrtel and AC Milan’s Juraj Kucka supported by a squad that is the fourth most experienced at Euro 2016, with an average of 37.3 caps.
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