It's fairly common for smaller footballing nations to have one particularly standout player. For Wales, think Gareth Bale; for Austria, think David Alaba. But in Marek Hamšík, Slovakia may well have the best talisman of them all.
That isn't to say that Slovakia is a one-man team: Their first couple of performances have shown that they're a very well-drilled outfit, boasting a blend of grit and flair that makes them a particularly potent force on the counter attack. It is rather that Hamšík has an incredible array of attributes, with the very best of them on show in their 2-1 win over Russia on Wednesday.
He's not the most explosive player, but his close control and ability to ghost past defenders would be the envy of most wingers. He's not the most physical, but his tireless industry and excellent positioning ensures he's a defensive asset rather than a liability. And as for his vision, one need only look at the outstanding pass he executed in the build up to Vladimír Weiss' opening goal against Russia. Sat in a fairly deep, ostensibly harmless position, he executes what may well go down as the assist of the tournament, slicing through his opponents' defense with a raking cross-field ball:
But not content to stop there, Hamšík netted Slovakia's spectacular second himself, taking receipt of a short corner before skipping inside and curling a venomous shot off the post and into the back of the net. It was one Dimitri Payet would be proud of:
There are plenty of footballers who are good at many things, but perhaps few quite as well-rounded as Hamšík. It enables him to grab a game by the scruff of its neck, driving his team forward from the center of the park. Journalist Richard Williams summed up Hamsik's performance particularly aptly:
Hamsik having imitated Drinkwater to initiate Weiss's opening goal, now he does a Mahrez for 2-0. Lovely stuff.— Richard Williams (@rwilliams1947) June 15, 2016
Considering Danny Drinkwater and Riyad Mahrez were thought to be two of the Premier League's very top performers at Leicester City last season, that's particularly high praise.
The worry for Napoli supporters is that Hamšík is delivering performances of this standard under the world's spotlight. Having delighted Neapolitan crowds with his skill and invention for nigh-on a decade, it wouldn't be surprising if renewed interest in his services followed. At 28 years old, he may not get a better opportunity at seizing a massive transfer elsewhere. Whether he'd be interested in trading his status in Naples -- as saintly as the San Paolo itself -- is, however, far from certain.
Hamšík's domestic future, of course, won't come as any concern for Slovakia supporters. This victory will give them renewed confidence of making it through into the knockout stages, and the manner in which they achieved it may well strike fear into the heart of Roy Hodgson's England. Playing against Marek Hamšík is like playing against two men, and they'll have to work extremely hard to shut him down.