Ondrej, last week Slovakia qualified for next summer’s European Championship. In the decisive playoff against Northern Ireland, you won 2:1 in extra-time. How happy are you? We have written history with Slovakia. Since Czechoslovakia broke up in 1993, it is the third major tournament that we have qualified for as our own nation. I was privileged enough to be there in 2016 at the Euros. The fact that I can do that for a second time is a huge success personally. It wasn’t an easy game. The entire year with the national team was a little turbulent, but we made it. I’m happy for my team and my country.
You were subbed off in the 85th minute and had to watch on as Northern Ireland equalised. How difficult is it to watch on from the bench? When you have to take in the game while not on the pitch, it is never easy. You are more nervous than when on the pitch, because you can’t do anything about it yourself. Two minutes after I was brought off, Northern Ireland equalised. I can imagine how difficult it was for my team-mates to come back from such a situation. When you lead close to the end and then have to go into extra time for another 30 minutes, which is very difficult. Especially away from home. But we didn’t let our heads drop and kept going. I was really happy that we managed to score in extra-time and didn’t have to go to penalties. When it goes to penalties, it’s down to luck.
How much are you looking forward to another appearance in the finals? It is always nice to be at the big tournaments. You never know what will happen. There are lots of teams who are fantastic in the qualifiers but when the pressure is on, they have problems. If we can achieve something great, then in such a tournament. Many teams definitely have more quality than us but these competitions have their own rules. The European Championship in France was an unbelievable experience. To represent your country there is something special. At some point, I want to go to the World Cup with Slovakia. That is my big dream.
In 2016, you made it to the last 16. Do you have any goals for next year? We are definitely the outsiders in our group. Spain, Sweden and Poland all have strong teams. In France it was similar, but we still managed to get through the group stages. We want to go as far as we can and surprise teams.
Back to FC. On Sunday, you face Union Berlin. What sort of a game are you expecting? Union are in good form and have already got points on the board. But we’ve also played well in the last four games. Now it is the time to finally get that first win. We need the points. If we played like we did in the last two or three games, then I’m sure that we will win.
You travelled back to Köln early after your yellow card and after speaking with the head coach. Does it help you to be here for the majority of the preparation for Union? I want to thank my national coach, first of all. Normally, you have to stay until the end of camp but he let me make the decision. I knew that I couldn’t help the team further because of my suspension. Then I said that it would be better for me to head back to Köln. Naturally, every day before a game helps. I’m in training now for the third day and have more time to prepare myself.
How do you see the start to the season? After three defeats at the start, you’ve managed to pick up three draws in four games. If you look at the table and see that we just have three points, then people could think that we’ve not played well at all. That is not the case. There were many games were things went against us. I can only think of one game where we deserved to lose and that was against Gladbach. We should definitely have more points that we do.
Against Union, you’ll play in the Karneval kit for the first time. What connection do you have to Karneval? My girlfriend is from Brazil. I know exactly what Karneval is (laughs). Street carnival is huge there. Everyone said to me that Karneval is just as big here in Köln. It’s a shame that we have to miss out on it this year because of Corona. I would have really liked to have experienced it and been able to celebrate Karneval a little.
Have your team-mates spoken to you about the Karneval training in costume? No, I didn’t know about that. We really train in costume (laughs)? I definitely want to be there!