• Wednesday, 23 June 2010

    Last minute Americans send Slovenia packing

    In truth, that headline should have been written last Friday night when only a bonkers refereeing decision helped Slovenia to a draw with the USA. Instead, the Americans got their revenge in the final group games and it's they that go through and Slovenia who are on their way home.

    It wasn't like that throughout proceedings though. England took a lead midway through the first half, but with the USA being held 0-0 by Algeria, that was still enough for Slovenia to join England in the second phase. England had chances, but couldn't kill the game off. The best chance for an equaliser ended with Valter Birsa shooting wide with the fourth effort of a barrage of shots blocked by England defenders. At the final whistle, it still remained goalless in the other game. Happy days. Well it might have been had there not been a couple more minutes of stoppage time left when Landon Donovan broke, Jozy Altidore's shot wasn't held and Donovan followed in to snatch a dramatic late winner for the States which saw them top the group ahead of England.

    Heartbreak, then, for Matjaz Kek and his team, but let's be realistic. Slovenia is tiny - a nation of two million with only around 450 registered professional footballers to call their own. Man City have about that many. This has forced Kek into forging the side into a fairly rigid starting XI with minimal changes which produces it's own pluses and minuses. On the plus side comes a team harmony many others envy (we mean you, France) with more of a feel of a club side about it. Players know instinctively how their colleagues play and that allows them to play in a way that gets the best out of each other. On the flip side, when it comes to chasing a game like they had to against England, it becomes very difficult to change personnel, let alone the system. The lack of a plan B really counted against them. While the nation has such meagre playing resources, that's unlikely to change and while the disappointment is tangible, it has to be remembered that getting to this point is a major victory. It may take a couple of days and a couple of beers to realise this, but that's the reality of the situation and it's a big feather in Kek's cap.

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