ROAD TO KOREA/JAPAN
|Slovenia came runners-up behind Russia
in the tight UEFA group 1 edging out neighbours Yugoslavia by a single point
for that much sought after play-off place. In the play-offs Slovenia beat
Romania to book their first ever World Cup tickets.
here for details
|Best placing: None
|Zlatko Zahovic is the undoubted star of this team. He
usually operates as a link between midfield and attack in that classic No.10 role or as one of two
forwards. He is an expert free-kick taker and has scored over 30 goals for his country and might be
one of the stars of this World Cup.
VERDICT: First round exit
|Most people thought Slovenia would just make up
the numbers at Euro 2000, but they grabbed points in two of their three games there. They have taken a tougher
route to this World Cup than most other teams and should be able to shake up this
group as well. We believe they will battle with Paraguay for that place alongside Spain,
but lose out in the end. Not by much though.
EUROPE'S TINY CONTENDERS
by Matthew Monk
What do you think is the fairy story of the World Cup
so far? Milutinovic leading China to his fifth
straight and the world's most populous nation's first
appearance at the World Cup? Ecuador qualifying
second in South America ahead of the mighty Brazil?
Or tiny Slovenia, population less than two million,
qualifying for their first World Cup after being a
sovereign country for less than ten years?
Slovenia are without doubt the success story of
European football in the last five years. From being
a tiny part of the Yugoslavian federation,
occasionally supplying players like current national
coach Srecko Katanec, they have become a tough, well
run unit capable of eliminating Switzerland,
Yugoslavia and (incredibly the team that so nearly
beat France in early February) Romania.
Those two playoff games should have seen an easy
passage for Gheorghe Hagi's Romanians, but instead saw
a Slovenian side minus its one true superstar Zlatko
Zahovic win through deservedly. The second leg in
Bucharest had one of the tensest finishes I have seen
in a long time, as Romania threw everything forward,
but the Slovenians just would not give way. But this
only tells part of the story. Slovenia won because
they play as a team, and although individually the
component parts may not possess as much skill and
talent as Portugal, France, Argentina, or even
Romania, together they form a formidable unit, capable
of upsetting anyone in Korea and Japan.
Make note of that last point. Slovenia could surprise
any team in the World Cup, and although they will not
win the whole thing, not many teams will want to meet
the Slovenes in the Second Round or quarterfinals.
And their route to that stage is not impossible to
Slovenia have been drawn into Group B along with
Paraguay, South Africa, and one of the favourites for
the whole competition, Spain. This is on the surface
a fairly weak group - according at least to FIFA's
strange ratings system. Only Spain will enter the
tournament expecting to reach the last eight, and fans
of the other three teams will all expect to progress
from the group. That is not going to happen though.
Slovenia might accompany Spain into the next stage,
perhaps even as group winners. Why? Because this
team is good, not good enough to win overall, but
easily good enough to beat South Africa and Paraguay.
Slovenia also possess one of Europe's most remarkable
players, Zlatko Zahovic of Benfica. Zahovic first
came to most people's attention at Euro 2000, where he
inspired Slovenia to unprecedented success. He then
moved on to play for Valencia in last season's
Champions League, and went all the way to the final,
although he was never a full part of the team.
Following their loss to Bayern, Valencia sought out
new players, for a new coach to rebuild for the
future. This though does not explain why Zahovic now
plays for sleeping giants, Benfica in Portugal.
Benfica are a still a big team, with tens of thousands
of socios, but they are no longer in the top echelon
of European football. A player of the talent and
stature of Zahovic deserves more. And perhaps this
World Cup will be his last chance to get it. Zahovic
is already 30, and may not get another chance to show
his talents on a world stage. Will he make the
tournament his own? Probably not, for he is no
Maradona or Cruijff. However he easily has enough
tricks and wile left to inspire Slovenia again this
summer, and if those around him hit top form again,
who knows how far they will go.
Slovenia will go about the group stage the same way
they did qualifying, playing on their role of underdog
to shock unprepared teams who expected an easy night.
Nonetheless, Slovenia are capable of poor
performances, as their opening qualifier away to the
Faroe Islands shows. Relatively coasting at 2:0 with
a goal in each half, Slovenia should have easily held
on for the three points that in the end would have
made qualification more comfortable. However they
could not do this, and two goals in the last five
minutes saw one of Europe's weakest teams grab an
unlikely draw. Should Slovenia make this mistake
against Paraguay or South Africa, then they will get
no second chance, and will be on the first plane back
to Ljubljana. Rather though, I feel their
performances away to Switzerland and Romania will be
more indicative - solid, astute displays that belie
Slovenia's status of group underdogs.
Following victories over the Swiss and old enemies
Yugoslavia, Slovenia still had to eliminate Romania,
very much a European success story of the 1990s. This
was thanks to Uefa's inspired system of play-offs,
which enliven the qualification process no end. It
also serves to remind the world that if the World Cup
was truly an open competition, with qualification
involving mixed groups drawn from all the
confederations, Europe would provide at least 28 of
the 32 qualifiers, and may well provide as many as 30!
This time the play-offs saw Germany hit something
like top gear by nullifying The Ukraine with ease,
Belgium outplay a tired looking Czech Republic, Turkey
terrify Brazil by obliterating Austria home and away,
and tiny Slovenia beat the team of Moldovan, Ilie and
Contra, deservedly. And of course they did this
without Zahovic, getting the goals from Mladen Rudonja
of Portsmouth's reserves, Milan Osterc and Mile
So how far will Slovenia go? As a minimum standard,
Slovenia should be looking at the Second Round, and
given luck they can hope for a quarterfinal appearance
at their first World Cup finals. In Slovenian, coach
Srecko Katanec's name means 'Lucky' Katanec. If this
rings true, then there may be an awful lot of happy
Slovenians in June, and who knows, maybe Slovenia will
be playing Italy or Croatia for a place in the
Now that would be quite an achievement for a
ten-year-old country of 2 million people!
A BRIEF WORLD CUP HISTORY
Slovenia has never participated in the World Cup before.
Info on how
the World Cup was founded and about the trophy as well.
on every match in every tournament.
Interesting columns about the past, present and future of the World Cup.
with appearances in the World Cup. Detailed info on every country.
of many of the most influential players in history.
An A-Z collection
of strange and different stories in World Cup history.
A big collection
of various statistics and records.
since it was introduced in 1966.
knowledge about the WC. Three different levels. No prizes, just for fun.
lots of stuff. For instance Best Goals, Best Players and Best Matches.
of links to other soccer sites with World Cup connection.
and buttons for you to link to us if you want.
A little information
on who keeps this site available.