Slovenia struggled on the international stage when the nation first found its feet, upon the collapse of Yugoslavia. Performances were nothing special until the country surprisingly qualified for Euro 2000 by beating Ukraine in a playoff. The win owed as much to a blunder by the Ukrainian keeper as much as Slovenia’s own display, but nevertheless a start at international tournaments was made. At both Euro 2000 and the 2002 World Cup, Slovenia could not advance past the group stage, but just to be there was a success.

To qualify for this tournament Slovenia emerged from a group containing the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Northern Ireland, Poland and San Marino. Second place sent Slovenia into a playoff with Russia, which all expected them to lose, yet in two nicely balanced games, the team lost 2-1 away, but won 1-0 at home, sending them to South Africa. Now Slovenia must show their success was not pure luck.

The Coach

Matjaz Kek (SLO)
48 years old

No team is complete without their coach and Matjaz Kek fills that role for Slovenia. The 48-year-old started out as a youth coach, guiding the country’s Under-15s and Under-16s. Soon his work was recognised and Kek was promoted to lead his country into the World Cup qualifiers in 2007. Despite a difficult job, Kek has never lost his desire to encourage Slovenia to play attacking football, adopting an innovative approach and changing formation frequently throughout the qualifiers.

Kek may have been surprised to make the World Cup, but the coach has always harboured a strong belief in his players. “Slovenia doesn’t have any big stars like England, Italy or Germany do”, said Kek. “Our best quality is our team spirit. We play proudly with our heart and I’m happy with the players I have. The team spirit is the strongest that it could possibly be right now. This is the motivation of our players.”

Players to watch

Milivoje Novakovic
31 years old
1.FC Koln (GER)

Milivoje Novakovic’s experience is invaluable for the success of the Slovenian team. Long since regarded as a key member of the team, Novakovic, who plays in the German Bundesliga, produced mature and calming performances throughout the qualification process. Will need to be on form in South Africa.



Robert Koren
29 years old
West Bromwich Albion (ENG)

The real heartbeat of the team, Koren brings not only experience, but real leadership to Slovenia. The midfielder loves to get forward and was instrumental in the team’s attacks during the qualifiers: He barely scored less than some forwards. Koren will need to guide all Slovenia do.

Samir Hananovic
25 years old
Udinese (ITA)

Samir Hananovic is another whose abilities dragged Slovenia to second place in their qualifying group. The goalkeeper, Hananovic is a reliable last line of defence and has picked up more than 30 caps. The keeper conceded only four goals in the group stage, in contrast to eventual table toppers Slovakia who let in 10. Handanovic has been a solid wall that opponents have found it hard to breach. He must be that again in South Africa.

Valter Birsa
23 years old
Auxerre (FRA)

A player who could make a difference to Slovenia is Valter Birsa. Young and talented, plying his trade in Ligue 1 with Auxerre, the forward has clocked up over 30 caps already. While he has not found the back of the net with the regularity he would like, Birsa has all the ingredients to be a real success. Slovenia believe in Birsa.

The view from Slovenia

Despite a successful qualification campaign, there remains no real belief in Slovenia that the national team can make it out of the group stage in South Africa. This is in marked contrast to the mood inside the camp, which, led by Kek, is full of confidence. The coach’s squad choices have been questioned at home though, with local journalists believing Slovenia need a win against Algeria, a draw against the USA and a small defeat to England – this is the best they can hope for.


Slovenia may well be underdogs, but they could still qualify from the group. The thinking being that if England secure two group victories, then Slovenia will meet Fabio Capello’s side when they have little to play for. In those circumstances they could grab the result they needed. However, it is more than likely that Slovenia will not make the knockout stage. Simply being at the World Cup is a success though for such a small country.

Did you know?

Following qualification, the Slovenian Prime Minister Borut Pahor shook hands with coach Matjaz Kek, took a rag from his pocket and, with a wry smile on his face, knelt down in front of the Slovenia coach to clean the mud off his dirty football boots. “I promised I would do that and I kept my word. He deserved it”, said Pahor, who has claimed to be Slovenia’s “number one fan.”

Group games

13/06/10: Slovenia  1- 0  Algeria     –   Polokwane
18/06/10: Slovenia  2 – 2  United States     –   Ellis Park, Johannesburg
23/06/10: Slovenia  0 – 1  England     –   Nelson Mandela Bay