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Rodak named in Slovakia squad

Fulham goalkeeper Marek Rodak has been named in Slovakia’s squad for their three World Cup qualifiers next month.

Rodak, who was part of Slovakia’s Euro 2020 squad but did not feature at the finals, is likely to be Stefan Tarkovic’s number one for the matches against Slovenia, Croatia and Cyprus as Newcastle United goalkeeper Martin Dubravka is unavailable after undergoing foot surgery over the summer and missing the start of the Premier League season.

The 24 year-old has played second fiddle to new signing Paulo Gazzaniga at Craven Cottage so far this season but is expected to get his chance to impress Marco Silva in tonight’s League Cup tie at Birmingham City. Rodak has won six senior caps for his country and excelled as Fulham were promoted from the Championship in 2019/20 but then had to watch most of last season from the bench after the Whites signed Alphonse Areola on loan.

The battle to be Fulham’s number one

When the news broke that Paulo Gazzaniga was having a medical ahead of joining Fulham this weekend, a lot of fans’ first thoughts will have centred around Marek Rodak. The Slovakian international, who had an outstanding breakthrough season at Craven Cottage as the Whites were promoted from the Championship under Scott Parker, watched most of our doomed Premier League campaign from the bench after Alphonse Areola arrived on loan and the acquisition of another goalkeeper places his hold on the number one jersey under question again.

Rodak’s displays in the Championship shouldn’t have come as a surprise given his string of consistent performances with Rotherham on loan – and he definitely deserves another chance to establish himself in the Fulham goal. Rodak was arguably the division’s most consistent custodian in 2019/2020 – with only Nottingham Forest’s Brice Samba posting statistics to match. Gazzaniga has a fine pedigree as a back-up goalkeeper, having amassed significant top flight experience at Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur, but would he have signed on the dotted line just to be a number two?

Rodak’s resilience has been tested before. He had a nightmare start to his Fulham career, being sent off at Middlesbrough after being elevated to the first team following some error-strewn performances from Marcus Bettinelli, but bounced back strongly – never looking like relinquishing the shirt. He secured some vital wins in the promotion season, with a succession of fine saves grabbing a win in a tight contest at Swansea, and he bailed Fulham out at Pride Park with some excellent stop against a dominant Derby County. Rodak’s rise was rightly rewarded with international honours and it is intriguing to think about how he might progress under the tutelage of new goalkeeping coach Hugo Oliveira, who played a key part in the emergence of Jan Oblak.

Although frustrated at his lack of first-team football last year, Rodak admitted that he picked up a few useful tips from French World Cup winner Areola. It would be good to see another of Fulham’s academy prospects progress with Rodak’s rise from the FA Youth Cup final side in 2014 to one of the Championship’s strongest performers a source of considerable pride for Huw Jennings and the rest of the Motspur Park coaching staff. He may well learn more from Gazzaniga in training, but he’ll desperately want to be Marco Silva’s first choice.

The theory will be that an experienced Gazzaniga can help push Rodak to new heights. The big shot stopper should be well known to English audiences from his stints with Southampton and Spurs, but he actually shot to prominence during an eye-catching spell with Gillingham after a recommendation from Gary Penrice, who had recognised his potential when watching Valencia’s youth team. Gazzaniga didn’t stay at the Priestfield for long with some superb League Two displays – including a miraculous clean sheet against Oxford that is memorably recounted in Michael Calvin’s The Nowhere Men – seeing compatriot Mauricio Pochettino take him to Southampton in a move that the goalkeeper described as ‘a dream’.

He spent four years at St. Mary’s – largely used as back up to the likes of Kelvin Davis, Artur Boruc and Fraser Forster – but performed well on his rare Premier League outings and was reunited with Pochettino when the Argentine made the move to Tottenham after a successful loan spell with Rayo Vallecano, where he had made 32 appearances. Gazzaniga found it nigh on impossible to dislodge Hugo Floris but when the French captain sustained a serious injury, he seized his opportunity. Having starred against PSV Eindhoven in the Champions’ League a year earlier, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that Gazzaniga commanded his goal impressively in both domestic and continental competition and plenty of Spurs fans felt he was unlucky to lose his place when Lloris returned from a lengthy injury lay-off.

Gazzaniga, who got a taste of first team football whilst helping Elche successfully battle against relegation from La Liga in the second half of last season, has already spoken about relishing the challenge with Fulham. That could be taken two ways – he will be up for trying to oust Rodak from the side as well as helping the Cottagers secure an immediate return to the top flight. As a tall, commanding and confident shot stopper, who is good on crosses, he certainly has the credentials to be a success in the Championship – and there is an element of doubt about whether Silva has brought him in to replace Fabri or with a view to installing him as the new number one. Whatever the manager’s intentions, it is clear that Fulham have two quality goalkeepers ahead of the start of the new Championship campaign and that can’t be sniffed at.

Rodak named in Slovakia Euro 2020 squad

Fulham goalkeeper Marek Rodak has been named in Slovakia’s final squad for the forthcoming European Championships, which was confirmed this morning.

The 24 year-old was included in Stefan Tarkovic’s initial 24-man party and won his sixth senior international cap in last night’s friendly draw with Bulgaria in Austria. Rodak will compete with Newcastle goalkeeper Martin Dubravka and the Lechia Gdansk keeper Dusan Kuciak for the number one jersey during the tournament, which gets underway on June 11th. He played a key role in Slovakia’s qualification for Euro 2020, saving a penalty from Alan Browne in the play-off shootout victory over the Republic of Ireland.

Rodak has been a spectactor at club level for much of the past season after Fulham signed Alphonse Areola on loan from Paris Saint-Germain. He started the first league game of the season, a 3-0 defeat by Arsenal, but had to wait until the final match of the campaign – when the Whites were beaten by Newcastle – for another appearance in the Premier League. He made two FA Cup appearances and featured in two League Cup fixtures.

Slovakia face Austria in their final warm-up match in Vienna on Sunday before opening their Group E campaign against Poland in St. Petersburg on June 14. They face Sweden at the same venue four days later before travelling to Sevilla to take on Spain in their final group game on June 23.

Rodak stars for Slovakia

Marek Rodak warmed up for Euro 2020 with an impressive display between the sticks as Slovakia drew their first pre-tournament friendly with Bulgaria tonight.

The Fulham goalkeeper started on the bench with Lechia Gdansk custodian DuĊĦan Kuciak preferred in goal. He was beaten inside nine minutes when Atanas Iliev punished some slack defending to put the visitors in front in Austria. The Bulgarians, who failed to qualify for Euro 2020, looked by far the better side until midfielder Laszlo Benes equalised from close range just before the break.

Rodak was handed his sixth senior international cap when he was introduced as a substitute immediately after half-time. After being a spectator for much of what had proven to be a particularly dour contest, the 24 year-old was called into action when he turned a fierce drive from Dominik Yankov onto the post. Such an excellent reaction save will have done Rodak’s chances of being included in Stefan Tarkovic’s 26-man squad – due to be named tomorrow morning – no harm at all.

The rise of Marek Rodak

Looking in from outside, the choice of Fulham’s player of the season would appear obvious. The talismanic Aleksandar Mitrovic has been a goal machine throughout a torturous Championship season, keeping the Whites’ flagging promotion push alive seemingly single-handed at times with his potency in front of goal. The Serbian’s 26 goal haul earned him the division’s golden boot and he returned, half-fit, to provide a clever assist for Joe Bryan’s second at Wembley as Fulham saw off Brentford in the dying embers of extra-time on Tuesday night.

The case for Mitrovic is compelling, but there should be other names in the frame. Michael Hector’s introduction to the heart of the defence undoubtedly made Fulham much more miserly and his outstanding interventions to deny Robert Glatzel an opening goal as Cardiff started the play-off semi-final first leg brightly look crucial in retrospect. But arguably the pivotal piece of Fulham’s promotion jigsaw was not Mitrovic up front or Hector in the back four, but Scott Parker’s decision to switch his goalkeeper.

Marek Rodak has always been highly rated at Motspur Park, but for a while it seemed like a susbtantial Fulham career could pass him by. The Slovakian’s misfortune appeared to be starring for Rotherham on loan whilst his parent club’s attention was elsewhere. He helped the Millers’ to promotion from League One via the play-offs, an experience that would undoubtedly have eased any nerves heading into this week’s Wembley showdown, and produced a string of outstanding displays the following year as Paul Warne’s side battled bravely – although ultimately unsuccessfully – against the drop.

If Rodak was disssatisfied at remaining understudy to Marcus Bettinelli in the Fulham goal, he didn’t show it. A determined pre-season impressed the Fulham coaching staff and his patience paid off when Parker became concerned at the number of eminently preventable goals his side were considering. It wasn’t plain sailing from the off, however, as Rodak had to bounce back from the early disappointment of being sent off at Middlesbrough seventeen minutes into his first league start having made a rash dash from his line. He overcome that setback to keep a clean sheet as Fulham clung on for victory at Birmingham and then kept the Whites in the local derby against QPR, who had taken the lead at Craven Cottage, with a string of fine saves before Aboubakar Kamara’s brace turned the tie around.

Rodak was sensational in front of the Sky cameras at Swansea as Fulham clinched a vital victory against their promotion rivals and firmly established himself as the club’s number one. He produced several stellar stops to keep out league leaders Leeds in another important win before Christmas, made another fine save in injury time to deny Stoke a point, and helped a much-changed Fulham eleven knock Aston Villa out of the FA Cup.

He is a confident young goalkeeper and has evidently improved his distribtuon with the ball at his feet, as indicated by the monstrous kick that found Ivan Cavaleiro and led to the precious second goal against the Bees at Wembley. The assurance he has added to a previously jitery backline is probably unquatifiable – and he keeps coming up with critical saves, such as the ones that ensured Fulham didn’t blow a three-goal lead against Huddersfield.

There were more outstanding individual displays during the run-in as Fulham battled to narrow victories, after Rodak showed impressive fortitude to put a below-bar performance in the damaging defeat by Barnsley behind him. Still only 23, there remains real time for the goalkeeper to develop his craft, even if he has served serious notice of his credentials during an excellent breakthrough season. Rodak is Fulham’s most consistent goalkeeper since Mark Schwarzer and will now have his eyes firmly set on the Premier League. At his rate of development, international honours can’t be far away.

That Fulham can even be contemplating a top-flight campaign considering that regular defensive mishaps were undermining hopes of even a top six finish during an inconsistent autumn run is probably down to a few factors. Parker’s undoubted improvement as a manager, which has come to national attention during the play-offs, helped his side retain belief and, while Hector and Mitrovic were vital components of their continued excellence, Rodak deserves recognition for his consistency in goal that made the Whites such a difficult side to defeat.