A Look at Slovenia
In some ways, it’s a minor miracle that Slovenia is in the World Cup at all. With a population just a hair over 2 million, it’s a small wonder that the tiny nation has the adequate personnel. Yet following a two-game playoff against Russia last fall, the Slovenians found themselves invited back to the Cup for the second time in a decade.
To be sure, Slovenia had a bit of luck on its side. Their qualifying group was the softest in Europe by some distance, featuring a Czech Republic team in the midst of a generational change (albeit one that many still favored to emerge from the group); surprise group champions Slovakia; as well as Poland, Northern Ireland, and minnows San Marino.
As expected, they took six points from San Marino, while adding two victories (impressively?) against Slovakia. They split home and away with Northern Ireland, while beating Poland at home and drawing away. Finally, they took one point from their two matches with the Czech Republic. And that, amazingly, was it. Granted, they still managed to triumph over a heavily-fancied Russia side in the two-leg playoff, but backing into the World Cup by beating the likes of Slovakia, Poland, Northern Ireland, and San Marino surely qualifies as one of the easier routes in recent European campaigns.
The book on Slovenia is that they are a defensively sound, well-organized team. The four goals they allowed during qualifying were the second fewest in Europe (the Netherlands, of all countries, allowed only two), as they held the only three mediocre teams in the group—Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia—to one goal each over six total games. That was followed by an extremely cohesive display against Russia, particularly at home, where a late strike from Dedic put them through by way of their way goal during the first leg. Surely, they’ve been a solid defensive team, but they haven’t exactly played the likes of Spain, England and Holland.
The argument that they’re “overly defensive” is also hard to place. They scored 18 goals during group play, which helped them to a goal differential of +14—superior to Italy, Switzerland, Denmark and Portugal. Then again, of their counterparts in Group 3, only the Czech Republic could claim to be defensively cogent, against whom Slovenia failed to score. We’re left with a team that’s hard to get a good grasp on. The statistics suggest they’re offensively potent and defensively excellent. Those accolades, however, are as much a product of their weak opposition as they are of Slovenia’s own talents.
FORMATION AND LINEUP
It does not take a great deal of foresight to predict Slovenia’s squad and formation, as they’ve stuck rigidly to a basic 4-4-2. Furthermore, the personnel were relatively static throughout the qualifying campaign, and all the way up through last Sunday’s match with Algeria. Up top, Milivoje Novakovic, the FC Koln veteran, partners with Zlatko Dedic, his young counterpart from Vfl Bochum. Novakovic is a legitimate weapon, scoring 16 goals in the Bundesliga for Koln in the 08/09 season. Dedic, for his part, is far less of a scoring threat, having notched just three goals in 23 international appearances.
Robert Koren, now out of contract at West Bromwich Albion, anchors the four-man midfield, paired with either Aleksander Radosavljevic or Andrej Komac in the middle. Koren’s best days are behind him, but he still provides a playmaking threat going forward, and scored the game’s lone goal last Sunday. Komac had owned the defensive midfield spot throughout much of qualifying, but lost his place for the last four games. The yellow card he picked up as a substitute against Algeria only reinforces the likelihood that he’ll start on the bench.
Valter Birsa and Andras Kirm man the wings, with both providing sufficient attacking capability to make cause for concern. Like Donovan and Dempsey, they like to rotate across the field throughout the game, making life difficult on the outside defensive backs.
The backline consists of Marko Suler (right center-back) and Bostjan Ceasar (left center-back), with Bojan Jokic on the left side, and Miso Brekco on the right. Suler (6’1”) and Cesar (6’3”) are both sound in the air, and strong enough to take on rugged forwards. Suler is quick enough to track a speedy forward around—and out of—the box. For an easy comparison, Suler usually takes Jay DeMerit’s role (on the smaller, more mobile forward), while Cesar is an aerial enforcer in the Gooch Onyewu mold.
Coming later…how we can expect Slovenia to play tomorrow, and what the United States needs to o to get a win.