Playmaker Valter Birsa reinforced his status as one of Slovenia’s key players during qualifying for South Africa 2010 and is expected to play an influential role at the global showpiece. The Auxerre star featured in nine of Matjaz Kek’s preliminary matches and scored twice, including a glorious strike in the 2-0 win over Slovakia that all but secured a play-off spot.
Birsa’s talent was evident from a tender age, and he was tipped to become Slovenian football’s new golden boy long before he earned a move to his hometown’s top flight representatives, ND Gorica, at the age of 17. The talented youngster, who often plays on the wing for his country, excelled in the PrvaLiga and, at 18, he became the youngest-ever player to represent the Slovenian national team.
International recognition merely boosted the confidence of this rising star, and the following season he scored 19 goals to help clinch a second successive league title. Inevitably, these feats did not go unnoticed overseas and, in the summer of 2006, Sochaux swooped to take the teenager to Ligue 1. By this stage, Birsa was a regular in the Slovenia national team, and he made an immediate impact at his new club, making 31 appearances in his first season alone and helping Les Lionceaux to claim their first Coupe de France in seven decades.
The tall youngster continued to impress for club and country and, having been linked with a move to Scottish giants Celtic, he left Sochaux in January 2009 for a loan spell with Auxerre. The Burgundy outfit clearly liked what they saw because, just five months later, they struck a deal to make the arrangement permanent. Birsa’s exploits for the Ligue 1 title-chasers have strengthened his claim on a starting place for his country, and he will be one of the main players Slovenia will look to for creativity at South Africa 2010.