ZILINA, Slovakia (AFP) – Former Chelsea midfielder Miroslav Stoch struck three minutes from time as Slovakia stunned defending champions Spain 2-1 in a Euro 2016 qualifier in Zilina on Thursday.
The central European minnows now top qualifying Group C after this famous victory, although Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque won’t be too concerned with qualification a near certainty.
It was Spain’s first qualifying defeat since 2006.
“I definitely didn’t expect this result, it was unexpected,” said Del Bosque, who refused to blame his players.
“We should have scored more goals but we got hit with a deadly counter.
“This is football, we can’t reproach the players. We were patient but we didn’t manage to finish it off and their goalkeeper was outstanding.”
He added: “It’s our first defeat in 28 qualifying matches. We drew level but then couldn’t respond to their last move.
“I think we deserved at least a draw, I don’t think we’re in a negative dynamic.”
Having trailed for 65 minutes of this encounter after Juraj Kucka’s free-kick, they had appeared to salvage a draw through Paco Alcacer’s strike eight minutes from time.
Yet Al Ain’s Stoch – now plying his trade in Abu Dhabi having fallen a long way since his heady Premier League days – had the last word.
Slovakia showed no early fear against their illustrious opponents and could have taken the lead after 11 minutes.
Captain Marek Hamsik played right-back Peter Pekarik into space and his cross was met on the volley by Robert Mak, but Iker Casillas made a stunning save one-handed to deny him.
The reprieve was short, though, as Real Madrid’s Casillas quickly went from hero to villain.
Slovakia went in front on 17 minutes as Kucka’s free-kick, which admittedly swerved, deceived Casillas, who seemed to move out of the way before getting only a faint touch as it flew down the middle of the goal.
That sparked a reaction from Spain as Cesc Fabregas’ corner broke to Raul Albiol on edge of the six-yard box, but despite being given two bites at the cherry he ended up prodding the ball high and wide.
The champions were almost made to pay as Mak played a one-two with Hamsik and fired in a left-footed shot that might have been going wide, but Casillas took no chances and helped it around the post.
On the stroke of half-time Spain were within a whisker of equalising but Slovak goalkeeper Matus Kozacik made a brilliant double save to beat out Diego Costa’s header from another Fabregas corner and then react quickly to save Sergio Busquets’ acrobatic volley from the follow-up.
Spain started the second period brightly and produced an identical move to Slovakia’s at the start of the game, this time Kozacik saving one-handed from Fabregas.
Moments later Costa ran purposefully at goal and unleashed a low strike that forced Kozacik into another stop.