PORT ELIZABETH - Slovenia, the smallest
nation taking part in the World Cup finals, still have big
dreams despite watching their South African adventure come to a
disappointing early end.
Slovenians discovered progress comes in small steps on football's biggest stage, where you can be sitting atop the group
standings one second and then suddenly headed home the next.
The smallest nation among the 32 competing in South Africa
with a population of just over 2 million, the Slovenians punched
well above their weight registering a first ever World Cup
success with a win over Algeria followed by a 2-2 draw against
the U.S. to spend most of the group phase top of the standings.
But a 1-0 loss against a desperate England on Wednesday
combined with a last gasp 1-0 win by the never-say-die Americans
over Algeria to shattered Slovenia's dream of reaching the next
"Sport is very unpredictable but you need to benefit from
defeat," offered a philosophical Slovenia coach Matjaz Kek
following the crushing loss. "If you cannot gain from defeat,
you do not deserve victory.
"I'm so proud of Slovenia's achievement, our squad put in an
extreme amount of effort and I can only that our squad will be
able to gain by this defeat."
After bowing out of the group stage in Euro 2000 and the
2002 World Cup without winning a game, Slovenia had appeared to
be heading to the last 16 after taking 2-0 first half lead
against the United States.
But the Slovenian's defensive frailties and inexperience
were exposed by the Americans, who stormed back in the second
half to steal a point and leave the European minnows needing at
least a draw against England - a team Kek had tipped to win the
Slovenia displayed plenty of fight against England but the
killer instinct the top football nations' have was still lacking
and will be a quality they will have to find as they set their
sights on the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
"Our players still need more experience," said Kek. "You
cannot really expect Slovenia to play at such a level every two
years or four years but I do hope that these players will be
role models for other players in Slovenia to work hard to join
the team in the future.
"Then it comes to this squad, they are maturing a lot and
have not yet reached the point where they have played at their
best. We have huge potential and it is us to us to use this
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