Slovenian footballers qualified for the European Championship for the first time since 2000 – just like Serbia.
Milan TomicSource: Tuesday, 21.11.2023. | 08:00 -> 07:30
If someone had told me that I would attend the departure of the “dragon” to the continental fair in the small town there, I would not have believed him.
The local pub in the town of Logatec, not far from Ljubljana, was practically the only bar open in the evenings in this town of about 7,000 people.
My colleagues and I happened upon it quite by accident. Well, in the pub on purpose, but in this town, which we hadn’t even heard of until then, thanks to an unfortunate accident.
On the way back from Turin, where we followed the Final Masters, which Novak Djokovic won for a record seventh time, bad luck happened.
“Crk’o alternator that charges the battery”we were told by people who carry out a technical inspection at a gas station near Grosuplje, but do not carry out repairs.
We soon became convinced that without a package and a roadside assistance application, one cannot move to a destination more than 1,000 kilometers away.
“The hotel is in Ljubljana?”we asked the guy, whose task was to transfer us to the accommodation, where we will wait for the repair.
“No, Logatec, below Vrhnik”he answered, and then covered a distance of more than 30 kilometers within 15 minutes.
No wonder, he drove at an average speed of more than 160 km/h, so we got to the hotel-motel very quickly.
Very quickly it became clear to us where we were. Monday evening, cold, there is no living soul on the street, nothing is doing – only one single pub.
And in it, what else but a game. I thought at first that Ukraine – Italy, as far as I could see, it seemed that the match played on a neutral ground in Leverkusen was actually the match of the evening.
The noise and cheering made it clear to us very quickly that we were not watching the match of the current European champions, but the home team.
Probably twenty people in the bar, some of them wearing national team uniforms, were noisily following the match of the last round of group H qualification for the EURO between Slovenia and Kazakhstan.
For the Slovenians, a point is “game” at the “Stožice” stadium, for the guests only victory. The first place was previously secured by the selection of Denmark.
We start somewhere in the 70th minute, the score is 1:1. The home team took the lead through Benjamin Šeško from a penalty at the end of the first half, but Ramazan Orazov equalized at the beginning of the second half.
You can feel the nervousness, the apprehension, lest there be a shock, both for the 16,000 fans in the stadium and for these people in the local pub.
Unsuccessful attacks by Matjaž Kek’s chosen ones became more frequent, just like the worried comments of the people at the tables.
The relief and great celebration of the Slovenians was brought by another Benjamin, but the one whose last name is Verbić. With a great goal, he solved the question of the winner and the passenger to the final review.
The big celebration could begin, smiling faces and positive comments replaced nail biting and sighs.
Slovenia is at the European Championship for the first time in 24 years, when, after all, they made their debut at the EURO as an independent country.
We well remember their participation in the Netherlands and Belgium, where they played in Group C together with Spain, Norway and Yugoslavia.
Their first match at the European Championship against our selection was one of the craziest, not only at that championship, but in general.
The team under the leadership of Srećko Katanec led 3:0, with goals from Zlatko Zahovič (2) and Miran Pavlin, but Yugoslavia soon, within six minutes, through Savo Milošević (2) and Ljubinko Drulović, avoided defeat for the final 3:3.
The Slovenians finished the competition after a defeat against Spain (2:1) and a draw with Norway (0:0), and they went on to pass the “red fury” with six and four points respectively to Yugoslavia, which had a better mutual score than the Scandinavians.
That generation of “dragons” was just as good and two years later secured the 2002 World Championship in Japan and South Korea.
The draw then decided that the rivals in the qualifiers would again be Yugoslavs, along with Russia, Switzerland, the Faroe Islands and Luxembourg.
After five rounds, Slovenia only had a win over Luxembourg, along with a disappointing draw with the outsider, the Faroe Islands.
In the next five matches, she achieved four triumphs, including a victory over Russia in the last minute of the game.
They didn’t have a single defeat, they collected 20 points, finished second, with one point more than Yugoslavia, and thus ensured the barrage, in which they eliminated Romania with a total score of 3:2.
Old friends Spain were waiting for them in the group stage, just like Paraguay and South Africa.
They were defeated by Spain with 3:1 in a match that marked the conflict between the coach of Katanec and the main star Zahovic. Katanec announced his resignation, while Zahovic was sent home. In addition, they suffered setbacks against South Africa (1:0) and Paraguay (3:1).
Unsuccessful campaigns for major competitions in 2004, 2006 and 2008 followed before the Slovenians managed to secure the World Cup in South Africa in 2010.
They went through the qualifications by being second in the group behind Slovakia, which enabled them to play in a play-off with the Russians and pass thanks to an away goal (1:0, 1:2).
They achieved their first victory in major competitions against Algeria, with a goal by Robert Coren (1:0), then they lost a 2:0 lead at halftime against America (2:2), and after a defeat against England (1:0) and a triumph USA eliminated from tournament over Algeria.
The selector was Matjaž Kek, who was succeeded by Katanec (2011-2018), and then from 2019 Kek sat on the bench again.
Since 2010, they have missed six major competitions, to secure the EURO in Germany with 22 points, the same number as Denmark. Kazakhstan, Finland, Northern Ireland and San Marino remained behind.
Slovenia, just like Serbia, is again at the final continental review and they just sent the “eagles” into the fourth hat in the draw that will be held on December 2.