Slovenia Camp Focus - More bite and purpose required
Former West Brom midfielder Robert Koren scored the winner 11 minutes from time to give Slovenia a 1-0 victory over 10-man Algeria and send the Eastern Europeans top of Group C. In what was a particularly dire game the Slovenia Captain scored from just outside the box with a curling shot which Algeria goalkeeper Faouzi Chaouchi badly misjudged and allowed to squirm past him into the corner of the net. It is the second goalkeeping mistake in as many days in Group C after England’s Robert Green allowed Clint Dempsey’s weak effort to trickle past him and into the back of the net for the United States’ equaliser.
Slovenia Coach Matjez Kek believes the 1-0 victory is a real boost for his side and after the game he said: “It was a mental victory, we wanted to win so much so it's great for our confidence to get that win.” With that said, Slovenia players can bask in the glory of picking up their first ever World Cup win after they fell at the first hurdle in Japan and Korea in 2002, recording no points and scoring just twice. Coach Kek sent out his strongest side and included the experienced goalkeeper Samir Handanovic, top-scorer in qualifying Milivoje Novakovic and the influential Koren to bolster his side’s chances. Despite this, the Slovenians started nervously as they lined up in a straight forward 4-4-2 formation with Zlatko Dedic supporting Novakovic in attack. This did not prove to cause the Desert Foxes many problems as it took Slovenia almost 44 minutes to conjure up anything of note.
As the second half got under way in the heat of the Peter Mokaba Stadium, there was little improvement in the style of play from both teams. Algeria, however, looked the more likely to make anything happen with the imposing threat of Portsmouth’s wide-man Nadir Belhadj. As the Africans slowly pressed for the opening goal Slovenia seemed to persevere with their static play and looked like they would be happy to settle for a point. Kek needs to marshal his troops in a much more positive fashion if they are to pull off a shock and gain further points from England and the United States. It would be unusual for the Coach to drastically change system now but something needs to be modified in their game play if they are to succeed.
Handanovic looks like a very solid goalkeeper between the sticks and Novakovic will almost certainly be relied upon to be their main goal threat. Koren needs to keep the tenacious mentality that saw him named West Brom Player of the Year in 2008 if Kek’s team are to progress. Elsewhere the defence of Bojan Jokic, Marko Suler, Miso Brecko and Bostjan Cesar looked anxious throughout and communication was clearly a problem. It can be plain for all to see that the Slovenians are a nervous bunch and who can blame them - the majority of the team play for small clubs and are not used to playing in front of such a large audience. Kek may give Inter Milan youngster Rene Krhin a chance to impress in midfield, adding more bite and purpose, something which was really lacking yesterday. Defensively the four who played were very unconvincing and do not be surprised to see Lokomotiv Moscow’s experienced Branko Ilic preferred in the heart of the defence. With no injuries to report, expect an almost unchanged team for the United States game - albeit with the potential inclusion of Krhlin and Ilic and the standard 4-4-2 set up looks probable.
Although the Slovenians did manage to nick a win - albeit with the help of a red card to Algerian substitute Abdelkader Ghezzal for two quick yellow cards - confidence and hard work remain key to progression. Their passing was sloppy throughout and this is another area that Kek must address if his vulnerable team are to have any chance of snatching something from the USA in their next fixture. Kek had earlier emphasized: “The most difficult thing in football is to play with an eye-catching style and win games but that's what we will try to do because playing a destructive game with 10 men behind the ball is not my philosophy.”
Interesting words from the Coach who, if he sets his stall out like this again, will see the humble Slovenians brushed aside with ease in their two remaining games.