Team Profile: Slovenia
- Coach: Matjaz Kek
- Goalkeepers: Samir Handanovic (Udinese/Italy), Jasmin Handanovic (Mantova/Italy), Aleksander Seliga (Sparta Rotterdam/Netherlands)
- Defenders: Bojan Jokic (Chievo/Italy), Marko Suler (Gent/Belgium), Bostjan Cesar (Grenoble/France), Branko Ilic (FC Moscow/Russia), Matej Mavric-Rozic (TuS Koblenz/Germany), Elvedin Dzinic (Maribor), Miso Brecko (FC Cologne/Germany), Suad Filekovic (Maribor)
- Midfielders: Andraz Kirm (Wisla Krakow/Poland), Andrej Komac (Maccabi Tel-Aviv/Israel), Rene Krhin (Inter Milan/Italy), Dalibor Stevanovic (Vitesse Arnhem/Netherlands ), Robert Koren (out of contract), Aleksander Radosavljevic (Larissa/Greece), Valter Birsa (Auxerre/France)
- Forwards: Milivoje Novakovic (FC Cologne/Germany), Zlatko Dedic (Bochum/Germany), Zlatan Ljubijankic (Gent/Belgium), Nejc Pecnik (Nacional), Tim Matavz (FC Groningen/Netherlands)
Style of play: Don't let Slovenia's 4-3-3 formation, with three forwards, fool you - this isn't an attacking side that plays a swashbuckling brand of soccer. Slovenia plays defensive-minded and disciplined type of game, which makes it difficult for opponents to break through. When they're in possession, they slow the pace of the match down, and look for weaknesses to exploit without taking too many chances. They are methodical and deliberate in their build-up, often dropping forwards Valter Birsa and Zlatko Dedicback to form a five-man midfield in support of striker Milivoje Novakovic.
1st round matches:
- June 13 vs. Algeria in Polokwane
- June 18 vs. United States in Johannesburg
- June 23 vs. England in Port Elizabeth
Projected starting lineup (4-3-3): (GK) Samir Handanovic - (D) Miso Brecko, Marko Suler, Bostjan Cesar, Bojan Jokic - (M) Robert Koren, Andraz Kirm, Aleksander Radosavljevic - (F) Valter Birsa, Milivoje Novakovic, Zlatko Dedic
- Defence: Slovenia emerged from a tough qualifying group by conceding just six goals in 10 games. Bostjan Cesar is an unheralded centre-back that holds together a tough back line that is supported by an outstanding goalkeeper in Samir Handanovic.
- Team spirit: Coach Matjaz Kek has fostered a healthy environment in the locker-room, relying on a core of veterans to set an example for the youngsters. Team unity will not be a problem, as this is a side that is the epitome of being greater than the sum of their parts.
- Self-belief: Few critics gave Slovenia much of a chance against heavily-favoured Russian in the qualifiers, but Kek's side defied the odds and go to South Africa with a world of confidence.
- Overall quality and depth: None of Slovenia's players play regular first-team soccer at a big European club (unlike Group C opponents England and the U.S.), and other than Handanovic, they don't have anyone you would consider of world-class quality.
- Tough group: A relatively easy opening game against Algeria will be followed by a pair of tough matches, against the U.S. and England. If Slovenia doesn't win against the Africans, they'll have to take six points in their last two games (a very tall order) to have a shot to qualify for the second round.
- History: It's been eight long years since Slovenia last qualified for a major tournament - the 2002 World Cup when they were bounced in the first round. Slovenia has no track record of success in international competition, making the task the lies ahead even more difficult.
Players to watch:
- Samir Handanovic - The six-foot-five-inch goalkeeper uses his height to his full advantage by routinely making athletic saves when opposing forwards seem to have him at their mercy.
- Robert Koren - The former West Brom star is a dynamo, serving as the engine room of Slovenia's midfield.
- Milivoje Novakovic- Slovenia's top scorer in the qualifiers, Novakovic can score with either foot and is noted for his strength and power in the air.
Key injuries/squad omissions: There was talk that 17-year-old midfielder Haris Vuckic and veteran striker Klemen Lavric would earn call-ups but neither made the cut.
Prognosis: First-round exit. Slovenia did well to qualify for the World Cup, finishing second to Slovakia in its qualifying group and then defeating the favoured Russians in a do-or-die playoff to stamp its passport for South Africa. They are a well-organized team that can record the odd upset. But their genuine lack of depth will hurt them at the tournament, as they simply can't match up effectively against the U.S. and England. They'll be battling it out with Algeria for third place.
ROAD TO SOUTH AFRICA
- Current FIFA ranking: #23
- Qualification route: Slovenia finished in second place (20 points) in Group 3 behind Slovakia (22 points). Slovenia then defeated Russia in a two-game playoff, winning 2-2 on aggregate via the away goals rule.
- Key to qualification: Defence. The Slovenians kept things pretty tight at the back, giving up just six goals during the European qualifying campaign. Bostjan Cesar anchored a back line that was short on experience, but long on smart, intelligent play.
- Crucial result: A 1-0 win over Russia (Nov. 18, 2009 in Maribor) in the second leg of its European playoff series clinched World Cup qualification.
- Qualifying record: 12 games played, 7 wins, 6 draws, 3 losses
- Goals for: 20
- Goals against: 6
- Top goal-scorer in qualifying: Milivoje Novakovic (5)
Qualifying results: (home team listed first)
- Sept. 6, 2008 - Poland 1, Slovenia 1
- Sept. 10, 2008 - Slovenia 2, Slovakia 1
- Oct. 11, 2008 - Slovenia 2, Northern Ireland 0
- Oct. 15, 2008 - Czech Republic 1, Slovenia 0
- March 28, 2009 - Slovenia 0, Czech Republic 0
- April 1, 2009 - Northern Ireland 1, Slovenia 0
- Aug. 12, 2009 - Slovenia 5, San Marino 0
- Sept. 9, 2009 - Slovenia 3, Poland 0
- Oct. 10, 2009 - Slovakia 0, Slovenia 2
- Oct. 14, 2009 - San Marino 0, Slovenia 3
- Nov. 14, 2009 - Russia 2, Slovenia 1
- Nov. 18, 2009 - Slovenia 1, Russia 0
- Number of Previous World Cup Appearances: 1
- All-time record: 3 games played, 0 wins, 0 draws, 3 losses
- Goals for: 2
- Goals against: 7
- Biggest defeat: 3-1 vs. Spain and Paraguay in 2002
- Overall top scorer: Milenko Acimovic and Sebastjan Cimirotic (1 goal)
- Most appearances: Several players (3 matches)
- Hosted the World Cup: Never
World Cup track record
- 1930 to 1990 - Part of Yugoslavia, so no independent involvement
- 1994 - Did not enter
- 1998 - Did not qualify
- 2002 - First round
- FIFA member since: 1992
- All-time caps leader: Zlatko Zahovic (80)
- All-time leading scorer: Zlatko Zahovic (35 goals)
- World Cup qualification: 2002
- European Championship qualification: 2000
- Srecko Katanec: Katanec represented Yugoslavia 31 times as a midfielder during his international career. He took over as coach of Slovenia's national team in 1998, leading the tiny nation to Euro 2000, its first major tournament, and to the 2002 World Cup.
- Zlatko Zahovic: Slovenia's all-time leader in caps (80) and goals (35), Zahovic is one of his country's most successful players, having enjoyed stints with top European club such as FC Porto, Benfica and Valencia.