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Fortune

favours the brave It is safe to say that most Slovenes remember where they were on 18 November 2009. It was the historic day when Zlatko Dedič scored the decisive goal against the Russian football team. Qualifying for the World Cup is one great thing, defeating Russia another. For Slovenians it all happened at the same time. It was the sequel to a football fairytale which began in 2000 and 2003 when Slovenia qualified for both the European and World football championships. And it is a fairytale: a classic story of the little guy rising up to take on the world. After all, on that evening in November a country with a population small enough to “fit almost exactly into a local community in Moscow,” as Slovenia team manager Matjaž Kek put it, joined a league of football superpowers which includes countries such as the UK, Germany and Brazil.

It is easy to understand why a small country with little flat ground makes a poor breeding ground for footballers. Many of the individual talents in the national team play elsewhere in the world, representing strong foreign clubs. And many are second generation immigrants from Bosnia and Serbia, leading to speculation that in the current team a southern football gene has met local coaching know-how.

Slovenia has only 30,000 registered football players: that includes players at all ages and all levels. England alone has more than 40,000 registered clubs. Drive across Slovenia and you will rarely see a football pitch, nor children kicking a ball around. Instead, the country has always been regarded as one which excels in individual sports, priding itself on being home to a number of ski and gymnastic champions. In the former Yugoslavia, Ljubljana’s Olimpija football club threatened practically no-one, stubbornly occupying a spot near the bottom of the league. Since gaining independence in 1991, Slovenia hasn’t defeated the national football teams of any of its fellow former Yugoslav republics – in spite of its success in qualifying for European and world events.

That local know-how has come from Matjaž Kek, a former footballer himself. Even so, when he took over the team it was in poor condition. In less than three years he has turned things around, building a strong team around some key players – a team which has got better and better with each match – and has led them to that decisive win late last year. That November victory may never fade from the mind but to some extent it does not matter any more – and nor does the analysis of how and why it happened.All that is important is that Slovenia is one of the 32 countries in the world that have qualified for the World Cup. In June, all fingers will be crossed and all eyes pointed toward South Africa.


Team Captain Zlatko Zahović in a qualification match against Cyprus in 2002. (Photo: BOBO)


Football World Cup

From Heaven to

Hell

and

Back

As in most countries around the world, football is the name of the game in Slovenia.The only difference is that qualifying for a major tournament, such as the European Championship or the World Cup, was simply inconceivable when the Slovene national team started to take shape in the early 1990s. Just try to imagine the most unlikely thing to happen – that’s how most Slovenians felt about their chances for major international success. Qualifying for the World Cup once was unlikely enough, but doing it again felt like hitting the jackpot twice. Earning their chance to participate in South Africa, that’s exactly what Slovenia has done. By Simon Demšar


The Euro 2000 team. (Photo: BOBO)

Japan/South Korea, 2002 The first era, popularly referred to as “the football fairytale” and its players as the “Golden Generation”, took place eight years ago. Fresh from the first participation in European Championship in Belgium and Holland in 2000, Slovenia went into World Cup 2002 qualifiers as an underdog, despite making a good impression at Euro 2000. The underdog status has actually always played into Slovenia’s hands, and (admitting it or not) fans and players alike count on it in South Africa, too. Slovenia played in the qualifying group against Russia, Yugoslavia, Switzerland, the Faroe Islands and Luxemburg. Russia and Yugoslavia were firm favourites and Switzerland was just a favourite. There was a series of unbelievable moments (or perhaps just a bit of luck): Slovenia won a point against Yugoslavia only after a free kick by Zlatko Zahovič in the referee time and beat Russia after a penalty kick in the dying moments of the match. Slovenia finished second in its group and went into play-offs against Romania. Slovenia qualified after winning 2-1 on home turf and a draw (1-1) in Romania. However, it proved to be more swansong than fairy tale. In Korea, Slovenia lost all three matches against Spain, Paraguay and South Africa. Tensions within the team, up to that point covered by the success, exploded after the first match against Spain. The central roles were played by the coach Srečko Katanec and the star player Zlatko Zahovič. Katanec resigned and most key players, including Zahovič, ended their careers soon after the tournament. Only a handful of fans gathered at the airport when the team returned, as opposed to the 10,000 greeting them upon their homecoming from Romania. Many commentators concluded that the team had been dominated by two strong individuals who simply could not co-exist. Zahovič was the only real international star while Katanec, who had a similarly – if not more – successful

career was also strong as a character. He also demonstrated this on a couple of occasions in later years, when he turned down offers to become the national coach again.

Painful way back Led by Katanec’s successor, Bojan Prašnikar, Slovenia managed another second place win and a (unsuccessful) tiebreaker for Euro 2004, but it was already apparent that there was no energy in the team. On the FIFA ranking, Slovenia fell to the 89th position (they are presently at 23rd). Prašnikar was replaced by the controversial Brane Oblak, who was in turn replaced by the current coach Matjaž Kek prior to the 2008 World Cup qualifiers. From today’s perspective this was a simple change of generation, but it didn’t seem so at the time. After poor results, finishing second last in the qualifying group, Kek was nearly sacked by the then national Football Association president, Rudi Zavrl, who openly wanted to replace him with Katanec, but the latter opted for the United Arab Emirates instead.

South Africa, 2010 The World Cup qualifiers started in a similarly gloomy atmosphere as the previous ones finished. But looking back at Kek’s words, he seemed prescient: “We have to accept the fact that we are a small nation and cannot expect to have a top team at all times. The whole nation should now stick together, support us and start building a new team. The players are doing everything in their power and I have nothing to say against them.” The further the qualifiers went, the better Slovenia was and the team started to take proper shape. Samir Handanovič, who had already been a bright spot in the team, was soon joined by striker Milivoje Novakovič, midfielder Robert Koren and others. After winning against Slovakia (2-0), Slovenia nearly qualified automatically for the World Cup,


but Slovakia’s controversial win against Poland (after Poland scored a goal against themselves) delayed the celebration until the epic win against Russia in Maribor (1-0). Unlike the Golden Generation, this team could not count on luck, but played their hearts out and won every single point

on the pitch. Another difference is that most players now play prominent roles in respected European clubs. Without real stars, the team looks much more compact and balanced. They are well aware of their underdog status, but this can only be an advantage.

They Look Gorgeous Belgian fashion guru Dirk Bikkemberg, who has designed outfits for out of pitch appearances of the Slovenian National Football Team (see page 2), commenst his recent creation. How much freedom does a fashion designer have when creating outfits for national football team? I didn’t have any restrictions regarding the suit and it is obvious that the logo of the team, in correct colours, should appear. I sent a proposal which was immediately approved. Where did you seek inspiration for the Slovenian team’s outfit and what does it express? I am inspired by sports for my collections, and in the last 10 years, I am particularly inspired by football. As I design clothes for my Dirk Bikkembergs Sport Couture collection for sporty men, it comes naturally to make a stylish suit that makes the players feel elegant and comfortable. And by the way, I believe the Slovenian team just looks gorgeous in the suit – I am very happy!

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4TEAMS, 2PLACES Slovenia will play in Group C against Algeria, USA and England in Polokwane, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth. Only two teams will advance to the next round. Algeria – the Team to Beat?

USA – the Team to Decide?

Algeria, nicknamed the Desert Foxes, is widely regarded as the team that Slovenia can beat. The only problem is that Algeria has similar plans – winning against Slovenia and then trying to surprise England or the USA. Algeria qualified for the World Cup after a thriller (and in this case also dangerous) tiebreaker against their fierce rivals – Egypt. Prior to the game, the Algerian team bus was attacked by violent hooligans leaving several team members injured, which led to a diplomatic row between the two countries. After winning the home match 2-0, Algeria lost in Cairo 2-0 and a third match was then played in Sudan, which Algeria won 1-0. Algeria showed its potential at the Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year, where they reached the semi-finals. Most of their players are members of English, French, Italian and German teams.

The US team has enjoyed considerable success after the rebirth of US football in the 1990s, culminating in quarterfinals in Korea in 2002. Led by coach Bob Bradley, they are optimistic about advancing to the next round. “I can’t wait for the match against England, which will be the most attractive match in our group,” said Bradley. After the draw, he admitted to not knowing any of Slovenia’s players, but within weeks he knew them by name and where they play. Landon Donovan, all-time leader in scoring and assists, with the most caps of all active players, was delighted with the draw. He counts on the second round, but also kept Algeria and Slovenia in view. If Slovenia is serious about advancing to the 16 round, they will have to win at least a point against the USA.

Currently ranked: 31st Plays against Slovenia on 13th June in Polokwane

Currently ranked: 14th Plays against Slovenia on 18th June in Johannesburg


England – the Team to Surprise?

The homeland of football is of course a firm favourite against Slovenia. But a friendly match at Wembley last year, which Slovenia lost 2-1, after Wayne Rooney had faked a foul in the penalty area, proved that it is not impossible for Slovenia to confront Rooney, Terry and company. England’s coach, Fabio Capello, said after the draw, “I remember the match against Slovenia very well. They were dominating in the second half; they are very well organised and technically strong.” England, of course, openly aims for the very top and losing a point or three against Slovenia is not an option. For Slovenia there is nothing to lose, this could be an opportunity. England’s opponents also count on Rooney’s fatigue after a long season and some interpersonal problems within the team. Currently ranked: 8th Plays against Slovenia on 23rd June in Port Elizabeth

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As if You Were There… Except for a few lucky ones who will have a chance to visit South Africa to see the World Cup matches in stadiums, most eyes will be focused on TV screens during the dramatic moments of football games. Watching a game in a group adds to the experience and, as usual, friends will gather in private and public places. No wonder TV sets and beer are the focus of more advertising recently. Without doubt, every town has at least one public place where people can gather and cheer for the team. Ljubljana has dozens and they need no special mention. Beside a few dedicated places where showing sports events are a part of the regular services, bars and pubs will crawl with people who frequently turn into a choir emitting loud sounds like “Noooo!”, “Yeaaah!!” or “Goooal!!!” The biggest dedicated place for watching football will be at Gospodarsko razstavišče, where a large screen will offer the best possible experience. In Slovenia, the national broadcaster’s second channel will be in charge of delivering a sharp picture and clear sound, along with good commentary.

Schedule

DATE

TIME

TEAMS

LOCATION

Sunday, June 13

1.30pm

Algeria vs Slovenia

Polokwane

4pm

Germany vs Australia

Durban

8.30pm

Serbia vs Ghana

Pretoria

1.30pm

Netherlands vs Denmark

Johannesburg

4pm

Japan vs Cameroon

Bloemfontein

8.30pm

Italy vs Paraguay

Cape Town

1.30pm

New Zealand vs Slovakia

Rustenburg

4pm

Ivory Coast vs Portugal

Port Elizabeth

8.30pm

Brasil vs North Korea

Johannesburg

1.30pm

Honduras vs Chile

Nelspruit

4pm

Spain vs Switzerland

Durban

8.30pm

SAR vs Uruguay

Pretoria

1.30pm

France vs Mexico

Polokwane

Monday, June 14

Tuesday, June 15

Wednesday, June 16

RTVSlo2, Central European time DATE

TIME

TEAMS

LOCATION

Friday, June 11

4pm

SAR vs Mexico

Johannesburg

8.30pm

Uruguay vs France

Cape Town

4pm

Greece vs Nigeria

Bloemfontein

1.30pm

Argentina vs Nigeria

Johannesburg

8.30pm

Argentina vs South Korea

Johannesburg

4pm

South Korea vs Greece

Port Elizabeth

1.30pm

Germany vs Serbia

Port Elizabeth

8.30pm

England vs USA

Rustenburg

4pm

Slovenia vs USA

Johannesburg

Saturday, June 12

Thursday, June 17

Friday, June 18


DATE

TIME

TEAMS

LOCATION

DATE

TIME

TEAMS

LOCATION

Friday, June 18

8.30pm

England vs Algeria

Cape Town

Wednesday, June 23

4pm

USA vs Algeria

Pretoria

Saturday, June 19

1.30pm

Ghana vs Australia

Rustenburg

8.30pm

Australia vs Serbia

Nelspruit

4pm

Netherlands vs Japan

Durban

8.30pm

Ghana vs Germany

Johannesburg

8.30pm

Cameroon vs Denmark

Pretoria

4pm

Paraguay vs New Zealand

Polokwane

1.30pm

Slovakia vs Paraguay

Bloemfontein

4pm

Slovakia vs Italy

Johannesburg

8.30pm

Cape Town

4pm

Italy vs New Zealand

Nelspruit

Cameroon vs Netherlands

Rustenburg

Johannesburg

Denmark vs Japan

Brasil vs Ivory Coast

8.30pm

8.30pm 1.30pm

Portugal vs North Korea

Cape Town

4pm

North Korea vs Ivory Coast

Nelspruit Durban

Port Elizabeth

Portugal vs Brasil

Chile vs Switzerland

4pm

4pm

8.30pm

Switzerland vs Honduras

Bloemfontain

8.30pm

Spain vs Honduras

Johannesburg

8.30pm

Chile vs Spain

Pretoria

4pm

France vs SAR

Bloemfontein

4pm

Mexico vs Uruguay

Rustenburg

8.30pm

Nigeria vs South Korea

Durban

8.30pm

Greece vs Argentina

Polokwane

4pm

Slovenia vs England

Port Elizabeth

Sunday, June 20

Monday, June 21

Tuesday, June 22

Wednesday, June 23

VENERA SHOPS AROUND SLOVENIA LJUBLJANA: Tržaška cesta 63 Trubarjeva ulica 43 Topniška cesta 35d Vošnjakova ulica 5 MARIBOR: Strossmayerjeva ulica 1 Vetrinjska ulica 11 CELJE: Cankarjeva 4 VELENJE: Šaleška ulica 19a NOVO MESTO: Ljubljanska cesta 26 KOPER: Ulica pri Velikih vratih 18 MEDVODE: Seškova ulica 9 KRANJ: Jenkova ulica 6, Šuceva ulica 25 IZOLA: Prešernova cesta 53 DOMŽALE: Breznikova cesta 15 NOVA GORICA: Ulica Gradnikove brigade 53

Thursday, June 24

Friday, June 25

Radio Television Slovenia has exclusive rights for transmission of all 64 of this year’s World Cup matches; 56 will be available in the transmission and 8 in the recordings, because they will be aired at the same time. Due to the qualification of Slovenian national football team in the World Cup 2010, RTV Slovenia will work on the scene with its own production of TV-signal (especially for the studio requirements) and press-production team of 23 members. The studio program from Johannesburg will be held on both regular daily and exceptional basis directly from the studio in the immediate proximity to the centre of the Slovenian national team. Matches will be commented by 6 television and 3 radio journalists.


The

Slovenian national team

Selector Matjaž Kek’s list of 26 players

Goalkeepers

DEFENDERS

Samir Handanović 14. 7. 1984, Udinese

Bojan Jokić 17. 5. 1986, Chievo

Dejan Kelhar 5. 4. 1984, Cercle Brugge

Jasmin Handanović 28. 1. 1978; Mantova

Marko Šuler 9. 3. 1983, Gent

Elvedin Džinić 25. 8. 1985, Maribor

Aleksander Šeliga 1. 2. 1980, Sparta Rotterdam

Boštjan Cesar 9. 7. 1982, Grenoble

Mišo Brečko 1. 5. 1984, Köln

Branko Ilić 6. 2. 1983, Lokomotiva Moskva

Suad Fileković 16. 9. 1978, Maribor

Matej Mavrič-Rožič 29. 1. 1979, Koblenz


MIDFIELDERS Andraž Kirm 6. 9. 1984, Wisla Krakov Andrej Komac 4. 12. 1979, Maccabi Tel-Aviv Rene Krhin 21. 5. 1990, Inter Mirnes Šišić 8. 8. 1981, Giannina Darjan Matić 28. 5. 1983, Rapid Bucharest

Dalibor Stevanović 27. 9. 1984, Vitesse Arnhem Robert Koren 20. 9. 1980, West Bromwich Albion Aleksander Radosavljević 25. 4. 1979, Larisa Valter Birsa 7. 8. 1986, Auxerre

FORWARDS Milivoje Novaković 18. 5. 1979, Köln Zlatko Dedić 5. 10. 1984, Bochum Zlatan Ljubijankić 15. 12. 1983, Gent Nejc Pečnik 3. 1. 1986, Nacional Funchal Tim Matavž 13. 1. 1989, Groningen


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Slovenian national football team