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World Cup 2010: Slovenia Profile

Coach: Matjaz Kek
Confederation: UEFA
FIFA Ranking (Apr 10): 23 Previous
Appearances: 1 (2002)

Background

Slovenia’s only previous appearance came in 2002 and ended in a shambles. After losing the opening match 3-1 against Spain, key player Zlatko Zahovic and manager Srecko Katanec clashed in the dressing room and the Benfica forward was subsequently sent home from the Far East. His team-mates lost the remaining two matches against South Africa (1-0) and and Paraguay (3-1) and returned home pointless. It was an end of an era of hope for Slovenian football. 

How They Qualified

Slovenia finished second in Group Three behind the group winners Slovakia but above the Czech Republic, Northern Ireland, Poland and San Marino. The team was then paired against the seeded Russians in the playoffs. After losing 2-1 in Moscow, Slovenia won the home match 1-0 courtesy of a Zlatko Dedic strike, and qualified for South Africa on away goals. The unfancied Central European men had stunned the world again.

Strengths

We simply cannot overlook a rock solid defence. Including the two playoff matches, Slovenia only conceded six goals in 12 games. Only four goals were conceded prior to the playoffs, a record only bettered by the Dutch, who played two games fewer than Slovenia. 

Weaknesses

Strength in depth could be a problem, especially on the wings and in midfield. Mirnes Sisic has been without a club for a few months and was not called up for the last few games, leaving no replacements for Valter Birsa and Andraz Kirm.

The Coach

When he was appointed in January 2007, Matjaz Kek was far from a popular choice. His first two and a half years in charge of the team were seemed to confirm those fears. A lot of fans were not satisfied with the performances, but after securing qualification his popularity sky rocketed. He is a systematic, well-spoken, modern manager with clear ideas of what he wants from his players.

Star Men

Milivoje Novakovic (Koln, Germany)

The Cologne captain has scored 13 times for his country and only needs three more goals to become the second most successful striker in Slovenia’s history. He had to prove himself in Austrian lower leagues and Bulgaria before being recognized in his home country. A late bloomer who adds special dimension to Slovenia’s attack.

Robert Koren (West Brom, England)

Koren is pulling all the strings in midfield for Slovenia. Kek surprisingly made him captain at the start of the qualifying campaign and Koren grew into the responsibility. He is a clever player who never gives up. 

Samir Handanovic (Udinese, Italy)

Handanovic is already considered the best goalkeeper this country has ever produced. His talent was clear to see from an early age and he was picked up by the Serie A side Udinese while still in his teens. He is a natural athlete and a great shot stopper who is only 25 and will probably eventually break the record in the number of appearances for the national team.

Best Footballing Moment

The most famous moment in Slovenia’s football history came ten years ago. Slovenia played Ukraine in the playoffs for the Euro 2000 and won the first leg at home by 2-1. The decisive moment came a few minutes from time, when Milenko Acimovic scored from the half way line to give the home side the victory.

Off The Pitch

Famous for: Being the first country to gain independence from the former Yugoslavia and also being the first (and the only thus far) former Yugoslav state to join the European Union. 

Most likely to: Be the least favoured European country at the tournament and the most wanted opponent from the second pot. And to be confused with Slovakia by some...

World Cup Objective

Certainly reaching the second round. The players and the coach immediately made it clear that this is their main goal.