The Thursday Preview: Slovenia Vs New Zealand
With Dagenham & Redbridge’s win over Rotherham at Wembley completed, domestic football is back in its box until August. So, for the next few Thursdays, we shall direct our attentions to matters of a World Cup hue. This Friday will mark the 7 days to go mark before the whole shebang kicks off in Johannesburg and two sides featuring 09-10 Championship players happen to meet that night in a friendly international in Maribor.
Since the collapse of General Tito’s dream, Slovenia’s second city has eclipsed the chocolate box capital of Ljubljana as the heartbeat of the national game. The Ljudski Vrt hosted the dramatic play off victory over Russia that saw the Slovenes through to their third major finals after a golden period between 2000 and 2002. Before last weekend, a home match against the side vying with North Korea to be the World Cup’s lanterne rouge could be seen as a cleverly designed fixture to provide a confidence boost in advance of the clash with Algeria in Polokwane, but the Kiwis have instilled doubt with a sensational triumph over Serbia on neutral ground in Austria.
The All Whites’ display was hailed by manager Ricky Herbert as the fledgling soccer nation’s best ever win and was achieved without Middlesbrough’s Chris Killen, away at his nuptials in England. Significantly, Shane Smeltz, a man who we all wish well having once spearheaded the AFC Wimbledon attack, netted the clincher – giving some indication that his reputation as a flat track bully – capable of only scoring agianst Oceanic minnows – is maybe undeserved. Certainly, New Zealand require the variation in attack that Smeltz might provide. Fellow strikers Killen, Chris Wood and Rory Fallon, men of the Championship all, are cast from the same quarry. Fallon has frustrated my fellow blogger Lloyd all season at Plymouth. Despite generally abysmal form that has seen the tall, suspiciously tanned striker lumber about the pitch like Jaws from the Bond films, he still felt able to take the Daily Mail‘s money last week in order to slag off the management at Home Park as well as the refereeing in the recent Trans-Tasman derby defeat, a terrifically testy affair.
Their hosts have Robert Koren to call upon, newly released by West Bromwich Albion, a descion that has irked our own Frank Heaven and regular commenter Jarvo. The cultured midfielder is rumoured to have ejected a few playthings from his stroller at being substituted against Scunthorpe this past season and the Swiss-Italian head honcho has decided he is surplus to requirements back in the EPL. Slovenia were beset by internal rifts in their last spell in the limelight when star playmaker Zlatko Zahovič and manager Srečko Katanec clashed during the 2002 competition and a small nation such as this can ill afford prima donna behaviour patterns.
Any errant Kiwi backpackers in Slovenia for the game might wish to try Ljubljana’s wondrously homely Pri Škofu restaurant followed by a plum brandy in the waterside Krakovo district nearby before hopping on a train to Maribor.