With Darko Milanič's NK Maribor top of the league and an NK Olimpija Ljubljana side packed with venerable stars pushing for promotion, Slovenia's leading lights of 2000 and 2002 are making headlines at home again.
The former Yugoslav republic set a daunting task for future generations as the national team qualified for the finals of UEFA EURO 2000™ and the 2002 FIFA World Cup, but as the stand-out performers of those squads enter the twilight days of their playing careers or move into coaching, they are playing an increasingly important role in domestic football.
Milanič, who captained Slovenia at UEFA EURO 2000™, is the biggest success this season. Forming an impressive team with sporting director and all-time national team top scorer Zlatko Zahovič, his Maribor side are five points clear at the top of the table and likely to maintain that position, with three games to go until the winter break.
Fans in Slovenia's second biggest city are praying for an eighth title – their first since 2002/03 – and in goalscorers Marco Morales, Dalibor Volaš, Dragan Jelič and Zoran Pavlovič, Milanič has the firepower to achieve that. However, a number of his former international colleagues will be doing their best to prevent it happening.
Milanič's former Slovenia coach Srečko Katanec is now an advisor at NK IB Ljubljana, goalkeeper Mladen Dabanovič is sporting director at NK Drava, Milan Osterc is still a striker with NK Gorica, while a bunch of stars of the Slovenian golden generation have gathered at Olimpija to resurrect one of the most famous clubs in the country.
With the winter break already begun in the second division, Olimpija top the table and are close to completing a dramatic resurrection. Champions in the first four seasons after independence, the capital side were declared bankrupt and disbanded in 2005, but after being refounded as FK Bežigrad, are racing back to the top.
Now called Olimpija again, coach Danilo Popivoda – Katanec's former assistant – has enlisted former Slovenia stars like Miran Pavlin (as a player and sporting director), Aleš Čeh, Mladen Rudonja, Muamer Vugdalič, Amir Karić and Sebastijan Cimerotič. They could yet complete their journey from Slovenia's fifth to first division in four years.
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