Despite scoring the goal that gave his country a historic victory in the FIFA World Cup™, Slovenia captain Robert Koren told FIFA.com after the match that the team that represents a nation of just two million people was not going into party mode just yet.
"We are pleased, and I am proud to score and be captain of the team," he said from Polokwane's Peter Mokaba Stadium, where his 79th-minute strike had given Slovenia a 1-0 win over Algeria. "It's a very big thing for such a small country to even go to the World Cup, much less to win our first three points. But we know we have two games left to go and hopefully we'll get the right results we need to go through from the group.
"We are not celebrating too much," he said with a smile when pressed about the team's surprising early position at the top of Group C, ahead of England and the USA, who both have one point following their 1-1 draw the night before. Ironically, the rest of the team failed to emerge for hours from what was apparently a joyous occasion in the changing room, although they were disappointed to watch their former Yugoslavian brethren, Serbia, lose to Ghana 1-0.
For Koren, the sloppy moments during the game were just part of the settling-in process, but the Slovenia captain was happy his side took advantage of Abdelkader Ghezzal's 73rd-minute sending-off.
"I was surprised how much they pushed forward and left space at the end even though they had a player sent off," he said before praising the north Africans for being "tough and tactical". Describing the decisive moment, he added: "When Algeria got the red card we changed our system a little bit, and I pushed forward more in midfield. The ball was played to me quickly through their lines. I turned, and our two strikers went forward and the defenders followed, so I saw the space. I tried to shoot in the far corner.
"When I hit the ball I knew I hit it alright, but I thought it was not going to be close enough to the post. But we saw the goal yesterday against England, so I thought you never know. It's not easy for a keeper, and I think he was surprised. We were lucky and happy in the end. We're not really thinking about the other teams in the group and where they are," continued the West Bromwich Albion player, who is likely to move on a free transfer during the close season. "We played alright today, but this win gives us confidence going up against the two very good teams we have left to play in our group."
Looking ahead, Koren sees Slovenia's contest with the USA in Johannesburg on Friday as key. "We watched them play England together as a team," he said. "Of course everyone expects England to go through, but we will do everything to get points in the next game against the US and improve our situation even more. They both put a lot of energy into the match. There were some good and some bad things from both teams, and I am sure we will now take a closer look at them with the coach. But for now, we showed that we're a good team. Before you play a close game, you never know where you are, but now we know we can put pressure on other teams."