Slovenia beat US in a football friendly
The Slovenian men's football team opened the new year with a 1:0 win against the US in San Antonio on 20 January with a revamped squad that helped head coach Matjaž Kek see who he can count on in the future fixtures as the team gears up for the 2024 Euro in Germany.
The only goal in the Toyota Field stadium in front of some 9,000 spectators was scored by Nejc Gradišar, a midfielder from the Slovenian club Rogaška, in the 26th minute.
"I took advantage of the first opportunity I got for the Slovenian team. The Americans also played well, but we were patient and wanted to score from counterattacks," said the 21-year-old.
In what was his 100th official match as the head coach for Slovenia, Kek did not field the usual starters for Slovenia, who were absent as the match in San Antonio was not part of the official FIFA calendar.
The match thus served as a testing ground of sorts for players that do not have much opportunity to play for Slovenia, with Kek looking for those with potential for future challenges as Slovenia gear up for the 2024 Euro in Germany in the summer.
The question before the match was who will be the third goalie for Slovenia in Germany, with the long-time duo of Jan Oblak and Vid Belec having already cemented their spots as the first and second options.
The opportunity was seized by Igor Vekić, who defended the goal well in San Antonio to earn Kek's praise. The head coach was confident in saying that Slovenia "have absolutely got the third goalie, also when the team will be in the full line-up."
This was the first win for Slovenia against the Americans, with the first two encounters being a 2:2 draw at the 2010 World Cup and a 2:3 loss in a friendly in 2011.
"We played well. There was some nervousness because there were too many debutants," Kek admitted, adding that he would like to see more games outside the official calendar to "create a pool from which we can draw when problems occur."
In preparation for the Euro, Slovenia will host Portugal with captain Cristiano Ronaldo at the helm at Ljubljana's Stožice Stadium for a friendly on 26 March what will be the first ever match between the two teams.