skrtelinteral

Slovakian national football player Martin Skrtel sits on a ball on May 20, 2010, at a training camp in Piestany. ((Samuel Kubani/AFP/Getty Images) )

Martin Skrtel

Born: Dec. 15, 1984, in Handlova, Slovakia (former Czechoslovakia)

Position: Defender

Nickname: Squirtle

Clubs played for: The 25-year-old defender earned his cleats with both FK Mesto Prievidza and FK AS Trencín in Slovakia before becoming a part of a rising Zenit St. Petersburg team that included Andrei Arshavin and Igor Denisov. Skrtel won the Russian Premier League in 2007 and then moved to Liverpool on a $10-million transfer. The defender has since made more than 70 appearances for the Reds.

International career: Squirtle made his debut for Slovakia in 2004 and has become a major cog in the national side, an essential part of the team's World Cup qualifying campaign. In six years, Skrtel has played 37 times for his country.

Why is he so special? This lithe, six-foot-three-inch sentry is not a flashy defender who relies on strength or anger — Skrtel is technically sound and never gets frazzled under pressure. His marking is tight, his tackles are clean and clearances are timely.

His most famous moment: The Czech Republic bombarded its former national partners during two World Cup qualifying matches, but Skrtel marshalled his teammates and Slovakia earned a draw and a historic win, which set them on a gilded path to South Africa.

He said it: "It's a big thing for Slovakia to have qualified for our first finals. It's a dream for everyone to get to South Africa.... We have achieved this dream as a country and now we have to show what we are all about and give our best."

What they are saying about him: "Martin has a very strong character and he trains hard" — Rafa Benitez, Liverpool manager

Here is an interesting fact: Skrtel's girlfriend, Slovak model Barbora Lovasova, says she is really attracted to Manchester United star Nemanja Vidic.