Dutch Domination Sinks Slovenia
The Slovenian national team's hopes of reaching the 2008 European Championships may well have evaporated following the latest round of matches. The side managed to pick up a solitary point in their games against Albania and the Netherlands. This leaves them with only four points from five games in qualification Group G. On Wednesday 28th March the Dutch visited Celje. The town was awash with the Netherland's trademark orange as their supporters managed to brighten up the grey spring evening. The Dutch supporters have a good reputation when it comes to travelling abroad, and this was clearly deserved as the two groups of supporters competed for bar space outside the Arena Petrol. Just under 10,000 supporters turned up to see how the national team would fare against a Netherlands team that is currently topping the group. The Dutch had a disappointing World Cup in 2006 after departing at the second round stage, and are on the hunt for success at the European Championships. Slovenia put in a good performance and looked comfortable holding their opponents at nil-nil going into the break. The Dutch returned after the interval and immediately bombarded the Slovenian goal. Despite the Netherlands having much more possession, it was Slovenia that continued to have better chances in the second half. That was until Giovanni van Bronckhorst scored from an 86th minute shot that was deflected off at least one Slovene player. It was a cruel blow to a Slovenia team who can, and should, take some pride from their confident performance. The match against the Netherlands followed a frustrating match against Albania on Saturday 24th March in torrential rain. Although Albania are one of the weaker teams in the group, Slovenia had to settle for a goal-less draw. The results mean that Slovenia's excellent run in the competition may be coming to an end. Past performances The team qualified for Euro 2000 by finishing second to Norway in their group, and then beating Ukraine in the play-offs. They also made the play-offs in the qualifying rounds for Euro 2004 but were beaten by Croatia. In Euro 2000 Slovenia put in their best performance in the finals of an international tournament. Under the leadership of manager Srecko Katanec they managed to draw 3-3 with a Yugoslavia team who were being bolstered by Savo Milosevic's goals. The Slovenes also found themselves facing Norway again in the group stage. They achieved a draw with the Scandinavians after narrowly losing to Spain in their second group match. Despite the good results, two points proved to be too little to advance from a strong group into the knockout stages. Under Katanec's stewardship, the team also qualified for an ultimately disappointing 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea. The current campaign The current qualification campaign began under one of the legends of Slovene football, Branko Oblak. Oblak's term began well, with a 1-0 win over Italy being a particular highlight, but bad results in competitive matches led to his eventual dismissal towards the end of 2006. Oblak's somewhat surprising replacement was Matjaz Kek, who won the Slovenian domestic title as the manager of NK Maribor in 2001 and 2003. Despite this, his only international experience has been as the manager of both the Slovene under-15 and under-16 teams during 2006. Hopefully the change of management will help to restore the team's confidence. The much improved performance against the Dutch should mean that they may at least pick up points from the weaker nations in their group. This would include Belarus, whose 4-2 victory over Slovenia led to Oblak's exit, Albania and Luxembourg. Unfortunately, the team are now an almost unassailable seven points behind second placed Romania. They will have a chance to try and make up some ground when they play the Romanians twice at the start of June in what will almost certainly be two entertaining encounters.