The country might be covered in snow, but temperatures are rising in Slovenia ahead of the start of the spring season this weekend.
While the resumption of lower-division football has been postponed, the top flight is ready to go, with only five rounds of matches to be played before the First League splits, on 3 April, into championship and relegation pools of six teams apiece.
Title-holders NK Gorica should have no problem securing a top-six berth, as they lead the way ten points clear of NK Publikum - whom they meet on 3 April. During the transfer window, Gorica saw striker Aleksandar Rodic leave for Portsmouth FC, but they will hope to start 2005 with a win when Pavel Pinni's side welcome struggling NK Bela Krajina.
Publikum, in second, are just six points ahead of seventh-placed NK Drava in a congested mid-table, but they are looking upwards having made several winter signings, most notably Slovenia centre-forward Sebastjan Cimirotic from NK Olimpija Ljubljana. The Celje club face an early test of their credentials as they host NK Mura, who beat NK Maribor to the signing of international midfielder Amir Karic and are looking to improve on their current eighth position.
Olimpija are third but could well struggle as financial problems forced the departure not just of Cimirotic but of almost their entire first team. Loan and youth players will fill the gaps as they visit bottom side NK Zagorje.
No room for error
Ready to pounce on any slips by Publikum or Olimpija are NK Primorje and Maribor, both only two points behind the troubled Ljubljana team. Maribor play FC Koper, who occupy the second relegation spot, three points behind Bela Krajina. Primorje go to NK Ljubljana, who may be ninth but trail sixth-placed NK Domžale by just two points. Drava, one point adrift of Domžale, take on the latter this weekend.
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