Zlatko Dedic might have scored the goal that sealed Slovenia’s place at South Africa 2010, but many believe that the most important strike of the play-off against Russia came via the head of Necj Pecnik. It was the CD Nacional midfielder’s 88th-minute intervention in Moscow that provided Matjaz Kek’s side with an ultimately crucial away goal, boosting Slovenian hopes and sowing the seeds of uncertainty in a Russia side who had been cruising to a 2-0 win.
Adding to the fairy tale nature of Pecnik’s late header was the fact that he had been on the pitch only six minutes, bolstering his status as Slovenia’s established supersub. After all, just a month before, the 24-year-old had come off the bench with 12 minutes remaining and gone on to score the clinching goal in a vital 2-0 win over group leaders Slovakia.
Pecnik is a relative newcomer to the international scene, having broken into the squad during the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ preliminaries and made his debut against Northern Ireland on 1 April 2009. The midfielder, whose brother Andrej has also been capped by Slovenia, went on to appear in six of the Zmajceki’s qualifying matches, earning his first and, to date, only start in a 5-0 win over San Marino.
This belated rise to prominence is welcome news for a player who enjoyed a low-profile start to his career during unremarkable spells with Publikum and Celje, the highlight of which was a Slovenian Cup success in 2005. The future scarcely looked any brighter after an unsuccessful loan spell with Sparta Prague at the start of the 2008/09 season, during which Pecnik made just four appearances, all as a substitute, before returning to Celje. However, he did earn a permanent move abroad in the summer of 2009, switching to Portuguese top flight side Nacional, where he has featured regularly in his debut season.