Slovenia might have only played their first-ever match in 1992, but their history in FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers is as impressive as it is short. Their opening foray into the preliminary arena for France 1998 provided a tough lesson; they finished bottom of their section, picking up just a single point in eight matches against Croatia, Denmark, Greece and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The next campaign, however, ended in triumph, with Slovenia pipping Switzerland and Yugoslavia to a play-off spot and - thanks to a 3-2 aggregate win over Romania – going on to claim a place at Korea/Japan 2002. Eight years later, they were back, finishing ahead of Poland and Czech Republic in their 2010 preliminary section thanks largely to an outstanding defensive record. Glory then followed in the play-offs, with Russia – population 142 million – humbled by this nation of two million people over two legs in a fairy tale encounter.
FIFA World Cup finals history
While reaching the 2002 FIFA World Cup was a hugely impressive feat in itself, the tournament itself was one to forget. Indeed, Slovenia’s Asian experience is best remembered for Zlatko Zahovic, the team’s undisputed star player, being sent home after coming to blows with coach Srecko Katanec following the first of three straight losses. South Africa 2010 represented a huge improvement, therefore, with Matjaz Kek’s side coming within two minutes of qualifying for the last 16, denied at the last after beating Algeria and drawing with USA.
The current crop
"We'll be back. This generation can only get better." That was the defiant message from Kek after his side suffered their heartbreaking exit in South Africa, and the average age of his squad would suggest that they will be genuine contenders for a place at Brazil 2014. Slavisa Stojanovic assumed the reins but was dismissed in December 2012, with Srecko Katanec - coach in 2002 - returning to the helm. Solidity and unity remain their key strengths, and with young player such as Tim Matavz, Valter Birsa and Rene Krhim improving all the time, the future for Slovenian football looks bright.
The key players
Milivoje Novakovic, the second-highest scorer in Slovenia’s history, remains the focal point of the team‘s attack, while Birsa is often a key source of creativity. However, the first name on Kek’s teamsheet is Samir Handanovic, an outstanding goalkeeper and penalty-saving specialist who is beginning to catch the eye of some of Europe’s top clubs.
Coach: Srecko Katanec
Best performances in a FIFA competition: FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan 2002, South Africa 2010 (Group stages)
Former stars: Zlatko Zahovic, Milenko Acimovic, Ermin Siljak