A NATION of just twomillion people, Slovenia have already punched above their weight to secure a place at this Fifa World Cup.

When one considers that they knocked out Poland, Czech Republic and, finally, Russia - population 142million - to take their place in South Africa, the achievement becomes near-miraculous.

Yet 2010 is, in fact, this fledgling football nation's second appearance on the game's biggest stage, and they are determined to continue defying the odds when they square up to the world's best.


When the preliminary draw was made, most observers envisaged Group 3 being dominated by Czech Republic and Poland, two teams who had successfully qualified for both Germany 2006 and UEFA's Euro 2008.

As it was, the expected favourites melted into the background as the section developed into an enthralling two-way battle between Slovenia and Slovakia.

The Slovenians' success was based on a defence that was arguably the meanest in the entire European Zone.

True, the Netherlands just edged them in statistical terms, but Bert van Marwijck's team also played two games fewer than a Slovenia side who conceded just four times in 10 group matches.

Indeed, Matjaz Kek's outsiders took their bid for top spot down to the final day, only to be denied when Slovakia - a team they had beaten home and away - somehow dug out a 1-0 win away to Poland.

Despite the Slovenians' impressive efforts, it was clear that Russia could barely contain their glee at being paired with them in playoffs, with Alexander Kerzhakov among those describing it as "a favourable draw" for Guus Hiddink's team.

How wrong they were.


Household names are conspicuous by their absence in this Slovenia squad.

Although the team's success has been built on collective strength and spirit, Cologne striker Milivoje Novakovic, at 30, is approaching this World Cup at the peak of his powers.


A player renowned more for his leadership skills rather than any great natural talent, Matjaz Kek was already in his thirties by the time he won his one and only Slovenia cap in 1992.

It was at Maribor, the club with which he won three successive titles in the twilight of his playing career, that Kek was given his first managerial post eight years later.

After a moderately successful six-year stint, Kek moved on to the Football Association of Slovenia in 2006, initially taking charge of the national U-15 and U-16 teams.

By January 2007, however, he had been promoted to the position of senior coach, and has since gone on to exceed all expectations by leading his unfancied team back to the game's greatest stage.


Given that they gained independence from Yugoslavia only in 1991, Slovenia's football history is shorter than most of their South Africa 2010 rivals. But they can reflect with pride on having qualified for the Fifa World Cup at the second time of asking, though they lost three straight matches at Korea and Japan 2002.