England’s opponents – Slovenia

By on June 23, 2010

By Thom Alexander.

Few would have predicted it, but England go into the final game against Slovenia know that anything but a victory could see them eliminated from the World Cup at the Group Stage. Indeed, Group C is one of the most open pots, with each side having the chance of progress and even the (literal) lottery of drawing lots a possibility.

If England were to draw 2-2 with Slovenia, and the USA were held 0-0 by Algeria, FIFA would be forced into a coin toss between two sides for the first time since 1990. On that occasion, both Ireland and The Netherlands progressed, as only the final group position was at stake. This outcome makes the process of penalty kicks seem positively humane, and both England and the US will know that only victory will cement a second round tie.

What to make of Slovenia? Although widely dismissed by early predictions, this is a side that eliminated Russia in a playoff, and remain the only side in Group C to have registered a win. A draw would be enough to see the Slovenians through to the second round, possibly even as winners. In their opening match, Slovenia battled to a 1-0 victory over Algeria, and for the first half against the USA, they looked adventurous going forward and dangerous on the break. However, their second half performance showed they are vulnerable to a high tempo attacking game, as they were one poor refereeing decision from losing to the US.

Slovenia have a solid defence, which has conceded just nine goals in their last twelve international fixtures. Only Russia and England have managed to defeat the Slovenian side in the last year, as they racked up 26 goals. The side is typified by talented young Udinese goalkeeper Samir Handanovic, who has been watched by several top sides throughout Europe, and is one of a dozen shot-stoppers linked to Arsenal.

Throughout qualification, Slovenia played a rigid 4-4-2 formation, and this tournament has been no different. The defence is expected to remain the same, with Bojan Jokic, Marko Suler, Bostjan Cesar and Cologne’s Miso Brecko having done little to suggest any change will be necessary. The midfield is marshalled, and the side is captained, by former West Brom midfielder Robert Koren, who scored the winner in the match against Algeria.

Koren is joined in midfield by Valter Birsa, who has looked dangerous in his opening games and will provide the sternest test to England’s right hand side. The wide player comes to South Africa after an excellent season at Auxerre, as they finished 3rd in Ligue 1. His guile and work-rate against the USA suggests that England will have to watch him closely. Indeed, it was Birsa who was the architect for Slovenia’s goal in the last meeting with England.

Andraz Kirm and Aleksander Radosavljevic ply their trade in Greece and Poland respectively, and are most likely to make up a compact midfield quartet. The Slovenian side do not have conventional wingers, but pose a considerable threat when their wide players cut inside. So too does Zlatko Dedic, the link man between midfield and attack. Dedic often drops back into midfield to bolster the central pairing, but spends most of the game providing the endeavour for one of two strikers. Slovenia usually prefer Milivoje Novakovic, the towering Cologne striker who has sixteen international goals to his name, or Zlatan Ljubijankic, a Belgian cup winner with Gent last season and scorer of his country’s goal in a 2-1 defeat at Wembley.

The meeting between the sides in September 2009 should provide all the proof that England need that Slovenia are a capable footballing side. It took a number of highly contentious decisions – Rob Green handling the ball outside the box, Slovenia being denied a penalty, Rooney winning one – for England to secure victory at Wembley. The second half performance of Tottenham’s Jermaine Defoe in that match could give Capello some food for thought, as he caused the Slovenian defence more problems than Heskey had in the first half. Again, much will depend on the English state of mind, and if the divisions which appeared so pronounced on Saturday night have been overcome. Will Capello persevere with his favoured formation, or will he bow to player pressure and deploy his stars as they prefer? The Slovenians have always been underdogs, but know that the match against England is the biggest in their history. For England, overcoming nerves and showing something approaching their Qualification form is all that will save them from the brink.

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What do you think of England’s Group C opponents? Can Slovenia provide a shock, or will England get their World Cup back on track on Friday? Should Capello stay on with England if they don’t make it through? Or even if they do? Where are the key areas? Let us know!


One Comment

  1. david

    June 23, 2010 at 10:16 am

    If more people cared about politics than they did about football we wouldnt be in this mess.

    Stop caring about something you have no say in and start caring about something you can change.

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