While the United States and Algeria will present tough competition in FIFA World Cup Group C, England look to be Slovenia's most daunting opponents. However, FC Lokomotiv Moskva player Branko Ilič told UEFA.com: "England have to be very careful from the start because even the big nations fail sometimes. They will not get through the group without any trouble, and I hope Slovenia can cause them problems."
Ilič believes his side must be "more than 100% prepared" as they kick off against Algeria on 13 June, but the 27-year-old regards the United States as an even greater threat, explaining: "They are tactically a bit better than Algeria. They regularly compete in major tournaments and they never surrender."
The smallest nation competing at this summer's World Cup with a population of just over 2 million, Slovenia finished second behind fellow minnows Slovakia in a tough qualification group featuring the Czech Republic and Poland, who had made the previous two World Cups. That was enough to earn Matjaž Kek's men a two-legged finals play-off against Russia.
Having lost 2-1 in Russia, Zlatko Dedič gave Slovenia a 44th-minute lead in the return leg in Maribor, and they clung on to win on away goals, as their visitors ended the game with nine men. "When we heard the final whistle, what we had achieved didn't really sink in," recalled Ilič. "That took a couple of days. Now half a year later, the whole of Slovenia is focusing on our group, our matches and how well prepared we are."
Slovenia fared respectably in their first major finals tournament at UEFA EURO 2000, with 10,000 fans travelling to Amsterdam to watch them lose 2-1 to Spain. "I still feel sad that I wasn't there," recalled Ilič. Two draws and that defeat meant an early exit for Slovenia in that tournament, while their only previous FIFA World Cup finals tilt in 2002 ended in three group phase defeats.
However, while those statistics do not augur well, the 36-times capped Ilič insists Slovenia are not going to the finals to make up the numbers. "I don't agree with these fans who say we have already achieved all we can just by getting to South Africa," he said. "This is not the end of the road for us. Every team at the World Cup can win all of their games on their day. History proves that."
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