Slovenia national team coach Srecko Katanec and his players certainly put a smile on the faces of their countrymen when they upset the odds for the second successive major tournament by reaching the FIFA World Cup finals for the first time in their history.
Katanec took over Slovenia in 1998, after the team had finished the qualification series for the World Cup finals in France with only one point. With much the same team at his disposal he managed to qualify for EURO 2000™.
The success story was crowned in November 2001, when his team in qualified for the World cup. Katanec uses a fluid 3-5-2 system, which makes the best use of his players. The formation features Marinko Galic as a ball-playing libero marshalling the defence. Down the left, midfield visionary Miran Pavlin combines with the more prosaic Mladen Rudonja, the new national hero after his goal in the 1-1 second-leg draw which clinched the 3-2 aggregate win over the Romanians. Meanwhile, talented playmaker Zlatko Zahovic provided the creative flair.
Zahovic, the folk hero of Slovenian football with 30 goals in his first 60 internationals, missed the decisive play-off through injury. However, the way that the less heralded Slovenian players coped in his absence buried the myth that this is a one-man team, with Rudonja, Doni Novak (in an unaccustomed left-wing role), and goalkeeper Marko Simeunovic all outstanding in the two-legged triumph. Saying that he would resign if losing in Romania, Katanec made it clear to his team that there philosophy should be “all or nothing”.
Candid and humble
Even in the immediate aftermath of his side's play-off victory over Romania. Katanec stayed candid and humble. “We rode our luck, while Romania were very unlucky," was his honest assessment at Ljubljana airport where he and his team were welcomed home by over 10,000 fans.
Graduating from spells with coaching the national Under-21 team and NK Gorica, Katanec took over as senior team coach on 1 July 1998, aged just 36. The achievements of Katanec the coach have exceeded those of Katanec the player which is saying something as he enjoyed a highly successful coaching career.
The former VfB Stuttgart and Sampdoria UC defender played 31 times and scored five goals for the Yugoslavian national team from 1983 to 1990, and played five times for the newly-independent Slovenia before taking over as coach. In his club career he also won the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup and the Coppa Italia with Sampdoria.
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