Team Profile: Slovenia
Colours: Green and white shirts, white shorts and white socks
Nickname: Zmajceki (Dragons)
Previous World Cup Appearances: 2002
Best World Cup performance: Group stage in 2002
Coach: Matjaz Kek
Most capped player: Zlatko Zahovic 80
Top scorer: Zlatko Zahovic 35
FIFA Ranking (Apr 10) : 23
Slovenia’s only previous appearance came in 2002 and ended in a shambles. After losing the opening match 3-1 against Spain, the most important player Zlatko Zahovic and manager Srecko Katanec clashed in the dressing room and the Benfica forward was subsequently sent home. His team-mates lost the remaining two matches against South Africa (1-0) and Paraguay (3-1) and returned home pointless. It was the end of an era 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. After losing 2-1 in Moscow, Slovenia won the home match 1-0 courtesy of a Zlatko Dedic goal, and qualified for South Africa on away goals.
We simply cannot overlook a rock solid defence. Including the two playoff matches, Slovenia only conceded six goals in 12 matches. Only four goals were conceded prior to the playoffs, a record only bettered by the Dutch, who played two games less than Slovenia.
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.
When he was appointed in January 2007, Matjaz Kek was far from a popular choice. And his first two and a half years in charge of the team 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.
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 the Austrian lower leagues and in Bulgaria before being recognised in his home country. A late bloomer who adds a special dimension to Slovenia’s attack.
Robert Koren (West Bromwich Albion, 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 with 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 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 of the number of appearances for the national team.
The most famous moment in Slovenia’s football history came ten years ago. Slovenia played Ukraine in the playoffs for Euro 2000 and won the first leg at home 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.
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.
Certainly reaching the second round. The players and the coach immediately made it clear that this is their main goal.