By just making it to the World Cup for the second time in their history, Slovenia, a nation of 2 million, have already defied the odds, but any hopes of a fairytale ending in South Africa will be rudely quashed.
The country’s captain, Robert Koren, provides an indication to the level of the team’s talents, and he was this week released by West Bromwich Albion, his club for the last three seasons.
That Koren was let go by Roberto Di Matteo is a reflection more on the Midlands club than Koren’s ability, with a host of Premier League teams reportedly chasing his signature. But the fact that Slovenia’s leader has been displaying his talent with England’s greatest yo-yo team is a reflection of the overall skill of the squad; never quite top flight.
Rather, manager Matjaž Kek has made his team more than the sum of its parts. The side are efficient with the ball and incredibly difficult to break down without it, as demonstrated when limiting England to a 2-1 win at Wembley in September.
Indeed, they conceded just four goals in 10 group stage matches during qualification, but, in a familiar story, their attack was a little blunted as a result, notching only 18 goals in the same time. It’s notable that Slovenia beat Slovakia home and away, finishing above major tournament regulars Czech Republic and Poland, and dismissed Guus Hiddink’s Russia in the play-off.
Slovenia went home without a point in Japan and South Korea, having lost to Spain, South Africa, and Paraguay. That trio is of a similar calibre to England, Algeria and USA, and it’s likely that an echo of those results will be seen this time round.