A decade after scoring the goal that fired Slovenia to UEFA EURO 2000™, Miran Pavlin is turning back the years for FC Koper, whose terrific start to the season has taken Slovenian football by surprise. Pavlin hit the winner in the play-off against Ukraine that booked the Balkan nation their first appearance in a major finals. Now 37, the midfielder is the pivotal figure as Koper mount a surprising challenge for the 1. Liga title.
After winning just ten games last season and only avoiding relegation on the final day, Koper already have six victories to their name from seven matches this term. It is a turnaround that has surprised and charmed Slovenian football fans in equal measure. The reasons are varied. Coach Nedzad Okcic has seamlessly blended a group of youngsters around an experienced core whilst Mitja Brulc, the league's joint-top scorer with five goals, provides cutting edge up front.
Perhaps most important of all is the renaissance of Miran Pavlin who, seven weeks shy of his 38th birthday, is proving an inspiration for the seaside club. The playmaker has already scored three times this season including in their past two victories away to champions NK Maribor and at home to his former club NK Olimpija Ljubljana on Saturday. "You cannot divide players between young and old; there are just good and bad," he said.
Having scored direct from a corner this season, Pavlin appears to have lost none of the skill that helped earn 63 caps for his country, including playing in all three of Slovenia's matches at UEFA EURO 2000™. Crucially, the former SC Freiburg, Karlsruher SC and FC Porto midfielder still craves success and after a successful spell with Olimpija came to an acrimonious end in the summer there were no thoughts of retirement. "I recognised a challenge at Koper," he said. "After last season Koper were at their lowest ebb, but I saw hope."
Pavlin had played a crucial role, first as a player and in the past two seasons also as a director, in Olimpija's rise from the fifth to first division in successive years. A dispute over the direction the club was moving, however, prompted his departure in June and Olimpija's loss has been Koper's gain. Pavlin scored one and set up another in the 2-1 victory over his former club, but his influence is far greater than simply his actions on the pitch.
He is a real inspiration and motivation for his younger team-mates and also an important link between players and the board. Even so, few people, Pavlin included, anticipated Koper's sudden rise this season. The midfielder, though, is confident their excellent form can be maintained. "Our results have even come as a surprise, as I didn't expect this kind of start, but people are ready to work hard here," he said. "We are on right track."
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