Heads held high, but the worst luck of the tournament
The nineteenth football World Cup is history. Slovenia will remember this World Cup fondly, as it finally placed us in the upper echelons of world football. Simply qualifying was a minor sensation, and our excellent showing among the world’s elite is proof of the exceptional footballing talent of a generation that few were willing to credit.
The matches against Algeria (Slovenia won 1:0), the USA (a 2:2 draw) and England (Slovenia lost 0:1) demonstrated the excellent fitness and tactical preparedness of the squad selected by manager Matjaž Kek and his staff. Slovenia proved to be an extremely well-organised team which left an indelible mark at all three venues (Polokwane, Johannesburg and Port Elisabeth) where its matches were played. Their fighting spirit, cohesiveness, knowledge and desire to win propelled Slovenia among the ranks of the world’s best.
The estimates are that there were over 1000 Slovenian fans. But not just Slovenes, even the locals were cheering for Slovenia, especially in the games against Algeria and the USA. Slovenia’s excellent showing at the World Cup in South Africa also has wider implications even outside of football. In that part of the world they finally stopped mixing us up with Slovakia.
Football has helped Slovenia establish its place in the world.
Recognition of Slovenia was everywhere.. You could see Slovenian flags everywhere, Slovenian football kits and t-shirts with the Slovenian football logo could be bought all over the place, and they even made vuvuzelas in Slovenian colours.
Slovenia’s play was watched with a great deal of appreciation by renowned football experts in the local media. The match between Slovenia and England was watched in the studio of the local television station by Luis Felipe Scolari (former Brazil manager, 2002 World Champion), Kevin Keegan (former England team captain), Ruud Krol (former Dutch team captain, two-time World Cup finalist), J.J. Okocha (Nigerian footballer, twice African Player of the Year) and Ricardo Villa (Argentinean player, 1978 World Champion). They were unanimous in their praise for the maturity, cohesiveness and commitment of the Slovenian team. They all expressed disappointment over Slovenia’s elimination, which happened in the waning moments of extra time during the match between Algeria and the USA.
The local television station showed scenes of the Slovenian team returning to Ljubljana on their main news programme. They talked about the exceptional connection of the entire nation with football and sports, and described our players as national heroes.
Slovenia ranked in 18th place
The comments and reports on the internet were interesting as well. Before the World Cup, the teams were ranked in various forums. The biggest favourites before the tournament were Brazil, Argentina, Spain and the Netherlands, with Slovenia ranked between 28th and 32nd place. But at the end Slovenia was officially ranked in 18th place. The only team ranked higher that failed to make the knock-out rounds was the Ivory Coast.
Text by Andrej Stare, Sinfo, August 2010
The Slovenian National Football Team at the 19th World Cup in South Africa:
Samir Handanović, Jasmin Handanović, Aleksander Šeliga, Mišo Brečko, Bojan Jokić, Marko Šuler, Boštjan Cesar, Suad Fileković, Elvedin Džinić, Matej Mavrič Rožič, Branko Ilić, Rene Krhin, Andraž Kirm, Dalibor Stevanović, Valter Birsa, Robert Koren (captain), Andrej Komac, Aleksandar Radosavljević, Zlatko Dedić, Milivoje Novaković, Zlatan Ljubijankić, Nejc Pečnik and Tim Matavž.
Results and scorers:
Slovenia : Algeria 1:0 (Koren 79')
Slovenia : USA 2:2 (Birsa 12', Ljubijankić 45')
Slovenia : England 0:1
Final Standings Group C
1. USA 5 (4:3)
2. England 5 (2:1)
3. Slovenia 4 (3:3)
4. Algeria 1 (0:2)
Media outlets covering the Slovenian team
Spanish sports paper Marcia wrote “Slovenia and New Zealand – the worst luck at the World Cup”. Why? New Zealand were eliminated without losing a game, and Slovenia missed out on the round of sixteen when the Algerian keeper lost control of an easy ball during extra time, allowing the Americans to advance.
Parisian paper L’Équipe wrote: “Mature, seasoned and iron-willed – that’s Slovenia”, and compared our footballers after the match between Algeria and the USA to our ski jumpers and swimmer Sara Isaković, and wrote: “Slovenians are a nation of athletes and in various championships have approximately the same number of medals as France, with a population half as big as the southern suburbs of Paris”.