Slovenia Camp Focus - Brush up defensively and England may be facing a real shock
Slovenia were just 8 minutes away from becoming the first team to qualify for the knockout stages of this year’s World Cup. In what would have been one of the shocks of an already upset- laden week in the World Cup, Michael Bradley had other ideas. The midfielder pounced on a Jozy Altidore knockdown to stab home and break the hearts of Slovenia . In what would have been the Slovenia first ever appearance in the knock out phase, they can take great encouragement for storming into a 2-0 half-time lead.
Matjaz Kek’s only change for the side that beat Algeria last Sunday was to replace Zlato Dedic with striker Zlato Ljubijankic and the switch paid dividends. The lively Ljubijankic scored the second goal just before half-time in what would have done his confidence the world of good. The striker was carrying a slight injury coming into the tournament. The performance overall would have done the world of good to the whole team in fact. Kek said after the game “There is of course something of an after taste, expectations have not been met, we were 2-0 up and then we didn't overcome the pressure and there was a blunder or two." Tough but honest words from the Coach who can at least revel in the thought that opting to play offensive football paid off, for the first 45 minutes anyway.
Kek now needs to decide whether to play fluent, attacking football against England on Wednesday. Judging by their dismal display against Algeria, Kek has nothing to lose. Kek also went on to say: “There is a lot of pride and some disappointment, but we might well benefit from it ahead of playing England on Wednesday.” This is very true considering their (England) dismal display against Algeria.
Slovenia unquestionably benefited from playing Captain Robert Koren and Aleksandar Radosavljevic in a more defensive looking role, effectively protecting the back four when needed. They had a licence to roam forward which was used to great effect. This tactic allowed widemen Valta Birsa and Andraz Kirm to terrorise the American defence with great menace. Defensively, they operated in two strict lines of 4 to provide sufficient cover whenever the United States leapt forward at them. Slovenia attacked with real malice and the confidence was oozing out of the minnows, with many neutrals expecting them to be whipping boys along with Algeria.
Kek was rewarded with changing his system to a more offensive ploy when some may have decided against it in case it backfired. The team had a real zest and willingness about them, something which was badly lacking in the victory over Algeria. The Slovenian team are playing with real confidence and belief and who can blame them? They knocked Russia out in the play-offs and finished above the usually impressive Czech Republic in qualifying. The Slovenia reek of the confidence that Kek has installed into them. Kek himself must be confident of gaining something from the England game on Wednesday. Just how does Kek go about derailing England to assure qualification? Playing football like they did at Ellis Park will surely get Fabio Capello heated under the collar. The major downfall was that Slovenia could not hold on to the lead-they did not know how to prevent Landon Donavon and Clint Dempsey harrowing down the wings when they were given freedom to do so after the interval.
Nevertheless they must take heart from what they achieved on Friday and produce a display of the same magnitude to have any chance of beating England. There is no reason why they cannot do this with England’s confidence looking placid and the pressure is all on them. This will play perfectly into the hands of the Slovenians and they really have a chance to rattle England. Slovenia know they can perform against the better sides in the tournament but they must work on holding onto a lead. This could well prove to be their downfall so Kek must analyse what exactly went wrong.
However nothing can be taken away from Slovenia and they can really enjoy the match on Wednesday knowing that they have already served their fans to some exciting stuff. They can grind out a win when not playing well and can also spring a tactical surprise and attack with purpose.Samir Handanovic, Robert Koren and Milivoje Novakovic will be key if Slovenia are to gain anything on Wednesday. Expect Kek to name an unchanged team but expect a strong word to his players about their mentality and discipline in regards to holding onto a lead. If Kek can conquer this there is no reason they cannot conquer England.