Slovenia defeated Kazakhstan 2:1 in Astana on 23 March to successfully open their Euro 2024 qualifying campaign after turning around a 0:1 deficit at half-time.
Slovenia, currently 62nd team in the FIFA rankings, have never started any of their qualifying rounds with an away win before. This is also the first time for them to take on Kazakhstan, which rank 115th.
It was Maribor forward Žan Vipotnik who scored the winning goal for Slovenia in the 78th minute in his debut appearance for the national side.
David Brekalo, who substituted for Miha Blažič after an injury in the 5th minute, equalised 1:1 in the 47th after a corner through Adam Gnezda Čerin.
Despite having to do without some key players due to injuries, Slovenia took an early initiative but then Kazakhstan showed more determination to take the lead in the 24th minute.
After Vipotnik took Slovenia to 2:1 the home team got an opportunity to equalise in the 90th minute but were prevented by Atletico Madrid’s keeper Jan Oblak, the only major international star that head coach Matjaž Kek was able to fall back on.
“I’m happy because we took three steps forward in what was expected to be a difficult match,” Kek said after the match. “We didn’t look good in some phases, but we showed character against a rival that deserves respect.”
“We were poor in the first half, but after that we made a good decision on the bench and saw good showing from those who came on … in the second half we dominated except for three or four minutes at the end. Compliments to the players who came on. It showed that we don’t have just ten, eleven players, but a lot more,” Kek added.
Seeking their second berth at football Euros following the 2000 tournament, Slovenia are playing in Group H, which also features Denmark, Finland, Northern Ireland and San Marino.
Slovenia will take on San Marino at home on 26 March in what will be the sixth fixture against this football minnow. Considering that Slovenia have won all five matches to date, they are well on course to secure the desired six points to position themselves among the frontrunners in the group.
The last of the ten qualifying rounds will be held between 19 and 21 November. Ten group winners and ten second-ranked teams will qualify for the championship with the last three spots to be filled after additional qualifying following the Nations League in March 2024.