The Slovenian team is positive in its own abilities and group placement, and in not repeating the embarrassment of the 2002 Cup.
By Mark Starr with Michael J. Jordan – GlobalPost Columnist
Slovenia World Cup 2010
Slovenia is the smallest nation — 7,800 square miles, about the size of New Jersey and just 2 million people — to have qualified for the 2010 World Cup. It emerged a nation from war-torn Yugoslavia in 1991, anxious to carve out its own identity and to command a seat at the table with its much bigger neighbors.
While Slovenia is known in the sporting world as an Alpine skiing power, it is hopeful that soccer and the World Cup will serve as its introduction to a greater, world-wide audience. That was also the hope in 2002, the first time Slovenia qualified for the World Cup. Instead, the showcase proved a national embarrassment.
In Slovenia’s first game its star player, after being substituted, threw a fit, confronting the coach with a stream of verbal abuse. He was booted, sent home and the team wound up losing all three games.
“Such an extraordinary chance to show yourself to the world, then to blow it in such a primitive way,” says Andrej Miljkovic, a Slovenian sportswriter. “People wanted to take the national jersey they bought for 50 Euros and shove it … somewhere. Anyone will tell you our main goal is the heroes come back as heroes — come back as a team — even if they lose.”
Slovenia World Cup History: Second cup appearance; in 2002 Slovenia lost all three games and was outscored 7-2.
Slovenia World Cup Schedule: June 13 – Algeria; June 18 – United States; June 23 – England.
Slovenia World Cup Conventional Wisdom: If the United States was thrilled with its draw, so was every other team in the group. All see the second round as attainable. Slovenia, brimming with confidence after besting Russia to reach the World Cup, is just the kind of rugged, well-organized European side that has always given the U.S. fits.
Slovenia World Cup Team Coach: Matjaz Kek
Kek, who had been coaching national youth teams when he was tapped for the top job, was scorned as not ready for prime time after a rough start in qualifying. But the team’s dramatic improvement — capped by the playoff victory over powerful Russia — has garnered great respect for his disciplined, egalitarian, team-building approach.
Slovenia World Cup Team Strength: Team cohesion has been a focal point, a reaction to the Cup disaster with a fractious 2002 squad. There are even reports of group singing on the team bus.
Slovenia World Cup Team Weakness: Disciplined, cautious defensive team has limited offensive mindset. Goals could be hard to come by.
Slovenia World Cup Key Player: Robert Koren
The team is built very much in the mold of Koren, its captain and the man in the middle. For a number of years, Koren was considered the best player in the not highly regarded Norwegian league. But he made the leap to England and became the first Slovene ever to score in the Premier League. He keeps the team organized, seldom makes mistakes and is capable of pouncing on an error to produce a score. Consistency is his game and Slovenia’s.
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