By Martin Pavcnik
The Slovenian season has reached the midway point and with the winter break begun, the question everyone is asking is: Who can stop NK Gorica?
The autumn crown, a ten-point advantage and some great performances guaranteed a happy atmosphere in Nova Gorica as the recess started. Save for a wobble in October, the defending champions have been dominant and a second successive First League title seems inevitable.
Others do the worrying
Pavel Pinni's side underlined their quality in their final game before the break by winning 2-1 at NK Mura - a result which, combined with NK Publikum's 2-0 defeat by NK Maribor - extended their lead at the top to ten points. Pinni's men have gained important experience in European competition and are a strong, united bunch and they know now that they just have to carry on their good work and let others do the worrying.
The real battle then could be for second place and, below Gorica, there are seven points separating eight teams. Publikum, NK Olimpija and NK Maribor look the three likeliest candidates. Publikum disappointed last season, but, despite that setback at Maribor on 27 November, they have improved this term - their first full season at the Arena Petrol - and their fans will hope to see further progress in the new year.
Ups and downs
Publikum have 29 points with Olimpija on 28 and Maribor on 26. The latter two - who between them have shared eleven league titles in the 13 years of the Slovenian league - have struggled in Gorica's wake. Olimpija believe they have great potential with players like Sebastjan Cimirotic - now restored to the national squad - Nedin Jusufbegovic and Anton Žlogar yet so far it has been a season of ups and downs, not helped by rumours about the futures of Cimirotic, Zlogar and the club's management team.
Maribor's troubles eased when Kliton Bozgo returned to the side. The Albanian striker is top scorer in the league with ten goals, followed by Gorica's Aleksandar Rodic and Sead Zilic of NK Drava. But Bozgo will need substantial help from his team-mates if Maribor are to mount a sustained challenge. At the other end of the table, meanwhile, FC Koper, who have financial problems, and newcomers NK Bela Krajina and NK Zagorje face a long fight against relegation come the spring.
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