A right-sided defender who can play at either full-back or centre-half, Branko Ilic has been a regular in the Slovenia squad since making his debut against Serbia in August 2004. A difficult spell at club level cost the 27-year-old his place in Matjaz Kek’s starting line-up towards the end of the Zmajceki’s qualifying campaign, but a March move to Lokomotiv Moscow could be his ticket back into the starting XI.
Ilic had started in each of Slovenia’s opening four South Africa 2010 preliminaries, helping the team to important wins over Slovakia and Northern Ireland, but the loss of his first-team place at Real Betis saw him drop out as Kek’s side went on to secure qualification. The Spanish side had paid €1.5 million to sign the Ljubljana-born defender in 2007 after he impressed on loan following successful spells with NK Olimpija and FC Koper in his homeland. However, Ilic fell out of favour during the 2008/09 season, which ended in relegation for Betis, and was on the move again in September 2009, joining FK Moscow on loan.
The Russians were sufficiently impressed to make the arrangement permanent when Betis released Ilic from his contract in January of this year, but any hope of stability was dashed just a few weeks later when the club was disbanded following the withdrawal of its main sponsor. This development left the big defender a free agent and, on 10 March, Lokomotiv Moscow swooped to snap him up on a two-year deal. Earlier the same week, Ilic had earned his 36th cap in Slovenia’s 4-1 friendly win over Qatar and he will be desperate to add to that tally during South Africa 2010.