Despite being rated as one of the outsiders for the competition in South Africa, the Slovenians are ranked 25th in the FIFA World Rankings so to treat them lightly would be a foolish mistake. With a population of just 2m, the Eastern Europeans can definitely be classed as minnows in world football and captain Robert Koren is surely going to be the lynchpin in any surprises they may force. With teams such as England, Spain, Brazil and Argentina basing their quest for glory on organisation and team spirit, the Slovenians are no different. They might not have players of the same calibre as the aforementioned big guns, but the sheer determination installed by Coach Matjaž Kek will prove priceless in their pursuit to qualify from Group C.
Top scorer in qualification Milivoje Novakovic will be relied upon once more to provide the ammunation needed to fire the Slovenians into the second round of the competition and former West Brom midfielder Robert Koren will surely be called upon to provide some background information on group opponents England. Nevertheless, Kek will insist on adopting an attack-minded approach which served the Eastern Europeans so well in qualifying. Defensively they are also very strong with just four goals conceded in qualifying.
The majority of the Slovenian team plies their trade in the national Slovenian league or surrounding countries so expect many of these players to showcase their skills in South Africa and vie to earn a big summer move to one of Europe’s more fancied teams. Slovenia’s talisman Koren will certainly be one of the players doing this. His contract with English team West Brom expired this summer and he is available on a free transfer so expect a passionate, hardworking and courageous World Cup performance from the central midfielder as he battles to find a new club as well as aid his country’s bid.
Not all of the Slovenian team plays for Europe’s lesser known clubs. Rising starlet Rene Krhin has represented Champions League winners Inter five times this season with the Italians holding him in high esteem. At the age of 20 it might be too soon for the youngster to deliver on the world stage but expect big things from him in the future. Goalkeeper Samir Handanovic represents Italian club Udinese and has often been linked with moves to the likes of Bayern Munich and PSV. His performances were pivotal in qualifying and his expertise will be relied upon once more if Slovenia are to cause an upset and qualify into the knockout stages.
A recent 3-1 victory over fellow World Cup minnows New Zealand has placed Kek’s team in good stead ahead of their opening World Cup fixture with Algeria on June 13. If they can beat the African outfit they will be in with a realistic chance of making the last 16 and emulating their last performance in 2002 where they finished bottom of the group with no points. Korea & Japan 02 was Slovenia’s only ever appearance on the world stage and they will be doing everything they can to surpass the horror show seen in Asia. However it would be unfair to tarnish the Slovenia team in this way as they are relatively new to international football and developing at this level.
Expect a passionate display from the boys in green in South Africa as Kek will insist on his players giving 100% in every game. They were deemed unlucky in defeat to England in a friendly last September where they went down 2-1 and revenge should definitely be on the agenda.
Playing at high altitude may be the only disruption in Slovenia adopting the hard-working ethic that has seen them qualify for their third major tournament. This of course will affect most of the countries competing in South Africa. Nevertheless expect a passionate and gutsy performance from Kek’s team and who knows, qualification into the second round may see the Slovenian Prime Minister march into the teams dressing room and wipe the mud off Kek’s boots, just as he did when Kek beat tactical mastermind Guus Hiddink in November.