The 90th anniversary gala of the Football Association of Slovenia (NZS) brought together the country's footballing community to take stock of past achievements and assess future prospects – all from an unprecedented position of strength.
The NZS may be an old lady in years, having been formed originally as the Football Union of Ljubljana on 23 April 1920, yet the national game it oversees is positively blossoming.
The association's first vice-president Stane Oražem was confident enough to call the year 2010 "one of the most exciting Slovenian football has known" during Friday's gala event at the Grand Hotel Union in Ljubljana. Not only did the national team participate at the FIFA World Cup in South Africa – their third major finals appearance after UEFA EURO 2000 and the Korea/Japan World Cup of 2002 – but they currently occupy their highest FIFA world ranking of 15th.
Oražem, speaking in the absence of an NZS president since Ivan Simić stepped down last month, reminded the assembled football glitterati that those successes had been attained by a nation of only two million people. "Our young country has already qualified for two World Cups and one EURO, which would be remarkable even for much bigger and developed countries than Slovenia," he said.
Such progress would not have been possible, however, without a conveyor belt of talent emerging from the grassroots. "Slovenian players are coming through and progressing in the strongest European leagues," explained the first vice-president. "Women's and girls' football is also developing fast while we have had impressive results in the futsal and junior football sectors."
The president of Slovenia, Danilo Türk, also paid tribute to the work of the NZS in a keynote speech. On an occasion that celebrated the many legends and milestones in Slovenia's football story, the nation's president made particular reference to the most recent landmark reached. "I am pleased to congratulate you as players, coaches, referees, administrators and fans. On my travels I have rarely been as proud as I was on the flight to South Africa for this year's World Cup. Football in Slovenia is much more than just a sport."
The gala, which was attended by the country's greatest player – former Yugoslavia striker Brane Oblak – charted Slovenia's steps as an independent footballing nation since 1992 and the NZS's admission to UEFA and FIFA the following year. In addition to appearances on the highest world and European stages, Slovenian teams have also qualified for final tournaments of the UEFA European Under-19 Championship (1997 and 2009) and the UEFA European Futsal Championship (2003 and 2010).
The proceedings culminated in an awards ceremony in which commemorative medals were handed out by notable players and coaches to five former NZS presidents: Tone Florjančič, Miro Samardžija, Branko Elsner, Marko Ilešič and Rudi Zavrl.
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