At the end of Group C is the small country of Slovenia (not to be mistaken for Slovakia; trust me, there’s a huge difference). The team expects to post respectable results, and they intend to do so without any superstars.
Colors: Green and white
Unlike the Slovakians, this Eastern European squad comprises of a bunch of no-names who fought their way into the tournament by being more disciplined than the other big name countries, like Russia and the Czech Republic.
Known as “The Little Dragons,” the Slovenians are the most disciplined team in the entire tournament when it comes to not letting in cheap goals. Don’t expect them to breakdown or be caught sleeping. This is a team that posted five clean sheets during its last six qualifiers.
There’s a lot of fire in this national team, and if the other three Group C teams don’t take them seriously, they’re likely to get burned.
Key Players: Robert Koren, Milivoje Novakovic and Samir Handanovic
Slovenian captain and top midfielder Robert Koren will look to use his brain more than his (small) frame to control the game and keep it inside the opponents’ half.
Koren won’t take any chances. He will feed the offense in open space and rely on striker Novakovic to outrun defenders and get to the ball first. Novakovic, the top goal scorer in the German second division league in ’08, expects to bring his goal scoring prowess to the world’s biggest stage.
For Samir Handanovic, if he doesn’t have superstar status now, he soon will. He’s plenty capable of shutting out two of the world’s best offenses, U.S. and England, come June. Handanovic is the key to the Slovenians’ success, allowing only four goals in 10 qualifying matches.
Key Matchup: Slovenia vs. USA
On paper, this game is over before it even starts. What will make the game exciting will be the goaltending matchup between Tim Howard and Samir Handanovic. Both guys are similar is size and athletic ability, and they could even be distant relatives in how they similarly play the keeper spot. Watch for more shots coming Handanovic’s way, but expect to see some miraculous saves.
The Slovenians are just happy to be in South Africa, competing. But they probably won’t make it out of the group stage. However, that doesn’t mean they won’t put up a fight and post some clean sheets along the way.
Related link: World Cup 2010 Countdown