Anything is possible

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Indeed, the latest performances in the qualifying campaign have been mainly positive: two wins, one over Italy’s highly praised “squadra azzura”, one draw and, well, a crushing 3:0 defeat in Norway. However, there is still a long road ahead to the finals in Germany, although skipper, Aleksander Knavs, is optimistic about Slovenia’s chances of making it there. The host nation in 2006 has became Knavs’ “second home”. The 29-year-old defender has been in Germany for almost four years now and currently plays for Bochum. Looking back on 2004, Mr Knavs: while the best European teams were competing in Portugal, Slovenia was condemned to spending a rather passive summer. Then you surprised everyone by playing extremely well in the World Cup qualifiers. After all that, was it a good or bad year? Well, it was a bitter experience not to qualify for Portugal. However, if I only take a look at the second half of the year, I am totally satisfied with our performance. There have been some radical changes. Lots of young players have been integrated into the team. I really think that with our new coach, Brane Oblak, we are on the right path. Neither the officials, nor the Slovenian public expected us to play that well. A stunning victory over Italy and then a sobering defeat in Norway four days later. How strong is the team really? There is obviously potential, but is there enough substance as well? Let’s not attach too much importance to the match in Norway! In my opinion, that was just a timely setback; a useful experience. After beating Italy we may have overestimated ourselves; Norway brought us back to earth. We have a young team; there are lots of lessons to be learnt. We won’t play that naively a second time. After all, I think this is a really strong team. Strong enough to make it to the World Cup finals in Germany? Five months ago I thought it would be impossible since our group seemed so tough. Now anything is possible. We are up for the challenge and I am sure we will keep growing as a team. After four games played we are in a very good position. I hope we will make it to the finals. For you, personally, that would be a dream come true. You have been living in Germany for quite a while now. Indeed, it would be a very special experience for me. Playing in the World Cup finals, in Germany, as Slovenia’s captain – in terms of sports, that would definitely be one of the greatest moments of my life, and probably the last time I could ever actively take part in such a great tournament. What about 2010 in South Africa? (laughing) Right, you never know, but let’s face it, I am not getting any younger… Your club, Bochum, is facing relegation this year. It looks like it is going to be a tough battle right up to the end of the season. Being focused on the club’s problems, are you still able to concentrate on the national team? I think that so far I have been able to separate playing for my club and playing for the national team. Bochum is my everyday life and I give my best in every match I am on the field. However, representing Slovenia is a completely different thing. I don’t need any extra motivation to play for my country. I might be quite experienced; nevertheless I am still aware that it is a great privilege to be part of the national team. If you had to choose between going to the World Cup finals with Slovenia and keeping Bochum in the “Bundesliga”, what would be your choice? (laughing again) That is a “no win” question and therefore I won’t answer it. Whichever I chose would disappoint lots of people. Who wants to do that? Seriously, I am an optimistic person and I think both options are possible. One last question regarding your personal prospects: what are your plans for the future? Will you return to Slovenia one day? Your contract in Bochum expires in… …three years, but in football you never know what is going to happen tomorrow. Today you are here, tomorrow maybe somewhere else. I will keep concentrating on the next match only and then see what the future brings. What I can say with confidence is that I won’t play for any Slovenian club again. However, one day I might support Slovenian football in another capacity; that could be as a coach or in some other position. There are lots of things to do and lots of things to improve upon.