After his team surprised the world and earned a spot in the 2010 World Cup by beating Russia in a playoff, Slovenia Coach Matjaz Kek proclaimed, “Slovenia has realized a dream.” What a dream it is for the smallest country in the Cup, qualifying for their second World Cup since playing their first game as a nation just 18 years ago.
While the “Green Dragons” are not picked to advance out of Group C, which includes the United States, Algeria and England, they won’t go down without a fight. In qualifying, Slovenia finished second in their group with a 6-2-2 record, finishing behind Slovakia, but ahead of 2006 World Cup teams in Poland and the Czech Republic.
By defeating Russia in two-leg playoff to earn their spot in the World Cup, the Green and Blue have a chance to earn their first World Cup victory in the country’s history this summer in South Africa.
Not known for any star players, Slovenia will rely on Coach Kek’s system of strong defense and relentless ball control in the midfield to challenge for a spot in the knockout stage.
Here are the players that I expect to be on the Slovenia World Cup Roster:
The strong-point for the Green Dragons figures to be on defense, with 25-year-old Samir Handonovich anchoring the back five. Handonovich, who plays for Udinese in Italy, has 38 career caps for Slovenia, and is regarded by many as one of Europe’s next top goalkeepers. For Slovenia to do well in the Cup, Handonovic needs to be on top of his game. The other goalkeepers joining Handonovic on the roster figure to be Jasmin Handonovic and Aleksander Seliga.
We have all heard the term “defense wins championships,” and if Slovenia advances, it will most likely be because of their back four. Miso Brecko and Bojan Jokic are the key disciplined players in the back for Coach Kek, who plays a standard 4-4-2 formation with two attacking backs.
Brecko and Jokic figure to be spelled by the 6’5” Bostjan Cesar, who will provide matchup problems for opposing forwards with his height. The fourth spot on the defensive line figures to be taken by the experienced Matej Mavric, who has 31 caps for the national team.
Expect a pair of 6’2” 27-year-olds to come off the bench for the Slovenians, Branko Ilic of FC Moscow and Marko Suler of FC Gent in Belgium. Against stronger teams like England and the United States, the Green Dragons are going to need strong and physical defensive performances to have a chance at earning the upset.
The midfield roles are key in Kek’s 4-4-2 formation, as they look to use short passing and endless ball control to wear down their opponents. The two center midfielders figure to be West Brom’s Robert Koren and Aleksander Radosavljevic of Tom Tomsk in Russia. The rising star in the Slovenian midfield is 19-year-old Rene Krhin, who is starting to come into his own for Italian giants Internazionale.
The other key players for Slovenia in the midfield are the speedy Valter Birsa of Auxerre in France and skillful Andrej Komac of Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv. The other midfield spots figure to be taken by four disciplined and experienced players in Andraz Kirm (25 caps) of Wisla Krakow, Dalibor Stevanovic (15 caps) of Vitesse in the Dutch Eredivisie, Anton Zlogar (37 caps) of Omonia Nicosia in Greece, and Goran Sukalo (32 caps) of Augsburg in the German Bundesliga 2.
While the strength of the Slovenian side is the defense, it was the offense that spurred the upset of Russia in the two-leg playoff. Milivoje Novakovic of Koeln FC in Germany was the hero after he scored an away goal in the 87th minute of the first leg against Russia. Novakovic led Slovenia in qualifying with five goals, and adds some experience to the Slovenian team.
Novakovic figures to be paired with striker Zlatko Dedic. Dedic, who plays for VFL Bochum in Germany. He never seems to tire, and will add energy up front for the defensive-minded Slovenians. Novakovic and Dedic figure to be spelled by Zlatan Ljubijankic of FC Gent, Nejc Pecnik of Nacional, and Klemen Lavric of Sturm Graz.
Projected Roster for Slovenia:
Goalkeepers: Samir Handanovic, Jasmin Handanovic, Aleksander Seliga
Defenders: Miso Brecko, Bostjan Cesar, Branko Ilic, Bojan Jokic, Matej Rozic Mavric, Marko Suler
Midfielders: Valter Birsa, Andraz Kirm, Andrej Komac, Robert Koren, Rene Krhin, Aleksander Radosavljevic, Dalibor Stevanovic, Anton Zlogar, Goran Sukalo
Forwards: Zlatko Dedic, Zlatan Ljubijankic, Milivoje Novakovic, Nejc Pecnik, Klemen Lavric