LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 05: Ashley Cole (front) of England holds off the challenge of Milivoje Novakovic of Slovenia during the International Friendly match between England and Slovenia at Wembley Stadium on September 5, 2009 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
FIFA RANK: 23
When the World Cup draw came out last December and Slovenia was placed in the same group as the USA, I thought, "Wow, the Yanks finally got a break after being placed in difficult groups the two previous cups." To be honest, I hadn't even heard of Slovenia and was very confident it would be an easy win. Now my confidence level is gradually decreasing.
Slovenia may be the smallest nation competing in this summer's World Cup, but after some research on my end I now believe they head into South Africa as a giant sleeper.
Part of the reason I hadn't heard of Slovenia is because the country is 8 years YOUNGER than I am! They began competing as an independent only 20 years ago. But before that, their players competed for the powerful Yugoslavian national team. My confidence level is now slowly dropping some more.
How they qualified for South Africa is also worth noting. They finished second in their group behind Slovakia, but won a playoff home and away series against mighty Russia. It was a huge upset, much like the Jamaican bobsled team winning the gold in "Cool Runnings!" (Refer to previous article) Ok, that didn't happen and I'm still upset about it.
Anyways, this Slovenia squad has many of the qualities the old Yugoslavian teams had. Height and power up front along with great goal keeping. Milivoje Novakovic is 6 feet 4 inches tall and one of the best scorers in the German leagues, and rising star keeper Samir Handanovic is a 6 foot 5 inch wall in between the posts. That size and physical presence has always posed problems for US national teams, who by the way lost to Yugoslavia in the '98 World Cup.
Slovenia has a nice shot to make it out of the group stage. I didn't know much about them in December, but I know enough now, and its put my confidence level when they play the US pretty much on life support.
June 13 vs. Algeria - 6:30 a.m. CT (Slovenia's size up front should be the difference)
June 18 vs. USA - 9 a.m. CT (Battle for second spot in group on the line)
June 23 vs. England - 9 a.m. CT (England may be in second round already, good news for Slovenia, bad news for USA)
NEXT ON THE PITCH: AUSTRALIA