Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tiny Slovenia has big ambitions at World Cup

Robert Koren is Slovenia’s top playmaker who scored the only goal in Sunday’s 1-0 victory over Algeria.

Associated Press

Robert Koren is Slovenia’s top playmaker who scored the only goal in Sunday’s 1-0 victory over Algeria.

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Its media information packet has a five-word motto on the cover: Never Judge Greatness by Size.

Slovenia, the smallest nation in the World Cup with a population of 2 million, is playing the United States, the largest nation at 310 million, today. And the Slovenians are determined to squash any notion that things are about to get easier for the Americans after Saturday's 1-1 tie against England.

Slovenia beat Algeria in its first game and has loftier goals. Known more for Alpine sports and gymnastics, Slovenia was a surprise qualifier after upsetting Russia in a European playoff.

A victory over the United States clinches a spot in the second round. The Americans would be eliminated with a loss. A tie keeps them in contention, and a victory puts them in great position entering their final game against Algeria.

"We are the smallest country, but we haven't come here as tourists," Slovenia coach Matjaz Kek said Thursday. "We do respect the U.S. players. Their performance last year at the Confederations Cup (reaching the final) was excellent. But we do not stand in awe of them. We are not afraid of them."

With a victory and three points in hand, Slovenia doesn't have to go for broke. It could accept a tie, which means it might hang back and make things difficult for the U.S. attack. Slovenia is known for its compact, organized defense, the type of opponent that traditionally gives the United States trouble.

"Slovenia isn't going to be spectacular, but they're going to be a good, solid team. And they're going to be difficult to beat," U.S. midfielder Landon Donovan said. "In theory, it seems easier because they don't have (stars such as England's) Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard or Steven Gerrard. The reality is when you have a team that plays well together, it becomes very difficult to beat a team like that."

Slovenia's primary target is 6-foot-3 Milivoje Novakovic while most plays go through Robert Koren, who scored in Sunday's 1-0 win over Algeria.

"They do a good job of staying very tight and moving as a unit," U.S. coach Bob Bradley said. "But we've been in many of these types of games before, against teams that play in a similar way. Where you expect the game to be a tactical game, you look for ways to get an edge."

Although most Americans have probably never heard of Slovenia's players, U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra said the team has the upmost respect for them and expects a scrappy game against a team that, in many ways, mirrors the Americans.

"We're not going to go into it taking anybody lightly just because the rest of the world doesn't know their names," Bocanegra said. "It's an important game for us."

Four years ago, the United States failed to advance out of group play. Donovan has been waiting to make up for that.

"I've always said … that we can compete with any team in the world, and we believe that," Donovan said. "What makes teams great is doing it three, four, five, six, seven times in a row.

"We haven't proven that we can do that yet. That's what we need to prove this time."

Tiny Slovenia has big ambitions at World Cup 06/17/10 [Last modified: Friday, June 18, 2010 6:55pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. For starters: Rays at Twins, with Cobb pitching with a purpose

    Blogs

    UPDATE, 12:34: Cash said he has been pleased with Sucre's work and is trying to find playing time for him. ... Cash also said after reading Farquhar's comments about having trouble re-focusing after getting out of a jam and then going back out for a second inning he will factor that in to how he uses him. ... …

  2. St. Petersburg's Sebastien Bourdais vows to return for IndyCar finale

    Auto racing

    INDIANAPOLIS — Sebastien Bourdais was in one of the best race cars he'd ever had, so fast that most of his competitors thought he would win the pole for the Indianapolis 500.

    Sebastien Bourdais does physical therapy at the Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana in Indianapolis. Bourdais broke his pelvis, hip and two ribs in an accident during qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 on May 20. He plans to return home to St. Petersburg soon to continue therapy. [Associated Press]
  3. Yellow cards stall Rowdies offense in tie with St. Louis

    Soccer

    ST. PETERSBURG — It's not the result they wanted, but it certainly could have been worse. Neill Collins' 87th-minute header off a corner kick was the reward the Rowdies settled for Saturday night during a 1-1 draw with St. Louis before an announced 6,068 at Al Lang Stadium.

  4. Calvary Christian routs Pensacola Catholic to win state baseball title

    Baseballpreps

    FORT MYERS — Calvary Christian left no doubt as to which baseball team in Class 4A was the best in Florida this season. The Warriors defeated Pensacola Catholic 11-1 in six innings Saturday night at Hammond Stadium to claim the school's first state championship in any team sport. It also solidified a 30-0 season. …

    Matheu Nelson celebrates after scoring on a wild pitch during the first inning, when Calvary Christian took a 6-0 lead.
  5. Numerous lapses add up to frustrating Rays loss to Twins

    The Heater

    MINNEAPOLIS — While the Rays made some good defensive plays, threw a couple of big pitches when they needed to and got a few, and just a few, key hits, there were some obvious things they did wrong that led to them losing Saturday's game to the Twins 5-3:

    Rays reliever Tommy Hunter says the Twins’ tiebreaking homer came on a pitch that was “close to where I wanted it.”