One of the rising stars of Slovenian football, Tim Matavz has been included in Matjaz Kek’s squad despite not having a single senior cap to his name. For all this lack of senior experience, the striker’s inclusion does not come as a major surprise, such has been his form at club and U-21 level.
Indeed, Matavz – who only turned 21 in January – is widely regarded as one of Europe’s most promising strikers, with Valencia, Stuttgart, Schalke and a clutch of leading English clubs having already made their interest known. The hype has been justified by a scoring ratio of one goal every two starts for FC Groningen, the Dutch club who pipped Fiorentina to the youngster’s signature in 2007.
His Groningen coach, Ron Jans, who has previously nurtured the likes of Luis Suarez and Marcus Berg, believes his latest prodigy can look forward to a bright future. "He is a pleasure to work with," said Jans. "Tim is a complete striker and has the potential to be as good as Suarez and Berg.”
This potential first became evident when he moved to his local professional club, ND Gorica, at the age of 15, and went on to force his way into the first team inside two years. Matavz was still just 18, in fact, when Groningen brought him to the Netherlands in 2007, although he rewarded their faith inside three months by scoring four times in a KNVB Cup victory over IJsselmeervogels. Seeing they had a rough diamond on their hands, his Dutch employers opted to hone the youngster’s talents by sending him out on loan to second tier side Emmen, where he scored five times in 15 appearances.
Groningen had seen enough to decide that Matavz was worthy of greater first team involvement, and this season has witnessed him feature frequently in his club’s fight for a European spot, and earn a new longer-term contract. This progress has not gone unnoticed by Kek, but the Slovenia coach – despite naming Matavz in his squad for the play-off against Russia – has preferred to let this talented youngster develop within a national U-21 side for whom he has been a key player for some time.
As recently as March, in fact, Matavz was on target for the U-21s in a friendly against his adopted Netherlands, and he will be hoping for a chance to show that he can bring this goalscoring ability to the biggest stage of all.