The Football Association of Slovenia (Nogometna zveza Slovenije or NZS) has its origins in the Ljubljana Football Association, founded on 23 April 1920. This forerunner of the NZS organised footballing activities in the country, including a national championship and cups, under the wider authority of the Yugoslav Football Association (Fudbalski Savez Jugoslavije or FSJ). The national team also debuted during this period, losing 5-0 to a French Olympic side led by Jules Rimet.
In 1935 the two most established clubs from the capital city Ljubljana, FC Ilirija and FC Primorje, merged for financial reasons to become SC Ljubljana and attract the best Slovenian players. This club participated in the federal Yugoslavian First League. Along with NK Maribor and NK Celje, they also played matches against foreign opposition, from Austria, Hungary and Czechoslovakia.
The years after World War Two were dedicated to restructuring the game. The NZS was formed in May 1948, albeit under the FSJ aegis, and had particular responsibility for local referees and coaches with specific departments for each. The most successful Slovenian club were NK Olimpija Ljubljana, who lost the 1970 Yugoslavian Cup final to FK Crvena zvezda. Olimpija nonetheless entered the European Cup Winners' Cup, falling to SL Benfica in the first round. Other well-known teams were Maribor, NK Rudar Velenje and ND Mura 05 as well as Ljubljana sides ND Slovan and NK Svoboda.
By the mid-1980s a Slovenian team was facing representative sides from the other Yugoslavian republics in friendly matches. Slovenia had been producing excellent players for the Yugoslavia national squad, including Danilo Popivoda, Brane Oblak, Marko Elsner and Srečko Katanec.
The most historic chapter in Slovenia's football story unfolded in the 1990s. Following the country's declaration of independence in June 1991, an inaugural national championship started, comprising Slovenian clubs that had participated in the Yugoslavian first, second and third divisions. Another landmark was attained on 3 June 1992 when an independent Slovenia made their national-team debut in a 1-1 draw with Estonia in Tallinn.
That same year the NZS was admitted to UEFA and FIFA, heralding the country's involvement in the UEFA European Championship qualifiers for EURO '96. The team took their competitive bow in a 1-1 home draw with Italy, FIFA World Cup runners-up, in Maribor on 7 September 1994. Sašo Udovič scored Slovenia's goal.
Two years later the NZS moved into its own headquarters. The top flight, or First League (Prva Liga), was reorganised into a 12-team championship for the 1998/99 campaign, before being reduced to ten clubs in 2005.
The new millennium brought golden days. With Katanec as coach, Slovenia qualified for UEFA EURO 2000. They overcame Ukraine in a qualifying play-off before drawing with Yugoslavia and Norway, and losing narrowly to Spain in their group in the Low Countries. Maribor also performed creditably by becoming the nation's first UEFA Champions League representative, appearing in the 1999/2000 first group stage.
With players such as Zlatko Zahovič showing star quality, further progress was made with qualification for the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan, again via the play-offs, with victory against Romania. However, the team fell at the play-off hurdle in UEFA EURO 2004 qualifying, which precipitated the international retirement of Zahovič.
Slovenia, a nation of about two million people, would next experience a major championship in South Africa 2010. Under coach Matjaž Kek, they navigated a World Cup qualifying group containing eventual winners Slovakia, Czech Republic, Northern Ireland, Poland and San Marino. Kek's men won their last four games to earn second place and a play-off against seeded Russia. The hosts led 2-0 in Moscow until Nejc Pečnik struck on 88 minutes. Slovenia won the return leg through Zlatko Dedič's solitary effort at Maribor's Ljudski vrt to advance on away goals.
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