How did they make the play-offs?
Slovenia entered Group E with hopes of stealing the second automatic qualifying spot from Switzerland. England ran away with it, winning all of their games, but Slovenia couldn’t lodge the Swiss from second place and had to settle for third. They were fairly inconsistent in their campaign, winning five games and losing four, with the one draw against Lithuania which let them down. However, they gave the Three Lions their closest game in the campaign, losing both tightly contested matches 3-1 and 3-2 respectively. They would look back on an opening loss to Estonia and the unconvincing home draw with Lithuania as reasons to why they haven’t qualified automatically.
Have they ever qualified for the Euros?
Up until 1992, Slovenia were part of the Yugoslavia side that finished as runners-up in both 1960 and 1968, losing to Spain and Italy. However, since their independence, they have only qualified for one European Championship in 2000, which was hosted in Belgium and the Netherlands. They failed to get out of the group stage, drawing two and losing one of their three matches in which they were massive underdogs. They did reach that year’s championships by winning their play-off game, which means that they do have experience as a nation in getting past this stage.
Who’s their man in charge?
Former Stuggart and Sampdoria midfielder Srecko Katanec has been given the job to guide Slovenia through the play-offs. He has previous experience in international management, taking charge of Macedonia for three years, which included an inconsistent qualifying campaign for the 2010 World Cup, eventually leading to his resignation. World Cup qualification was also his enemy when he took charge of United Arab Emirates, as two defeats in a row led to Katanec being sacked after two years in the job. However, Katanec was the man in charge of leading Slovenia to the 2000 European Championships, and then to the 2002 World Cup, which was much more unsuccessful as they lost all three group games. Katanec has the support and affection of the fans, and so if the nation gets behind them they could again cause an upset.
Who’s been their star man?
Veteran Milivoje Novakovic has been Slovenia’s go-to man for this qualifying campaign. At the age of 36, he has scored six goals in seven appearances, making one assist also. Without his goals Slovenia would have been trying to avoid finishing bottom, and if they are to progress past the play-off stage he will be a vital member of the squad. With Novakovic bagging 31 goals in 70 appearances, he is only five off becoming his country’s all-time leading goalscorer.
Will they be seen as a big threat?
Slovenia have a good squad, but they certainly won’t be anywhere near favourites to progress past the play-offs. They have some good players who are playing in Europe’s top leagues, such as Kevin Kampl for Bayer Leverkusen and Josip Ilicic for Fiorentina, so their team has individuals who can cope with pressure. Despite this, a lack of experience throughout the squad matched with few top quality players means that better teams, such as Denmark, would enjoy to be drawn against them.