Nejc Pečnik's late header in Russia on Saturday may not have prevented Slovenia falling to defeat but it could prove a vital lifeline in their FIFA World Cup play-off.
The 2-1 loss leaves Slovenia having to come from behind in Maribor on Wednesday, but the away goal makes their task more straightforward at the Ljudski vrt Stadium. Slovenia have been successful in two of their three past play-offs, but for UEFA EURO 2000™ against Ukraine and versus Romania on the road to the 2002 FIFA World Cup, Srecko Katanec's side were defending a 2-1 lead in an away second leg rather than vice versa.
Goalkeeper Samir Handanovič has been part of the Slovenia set-up since 2004 and is keen to end his wait to play at a major finals, having come in just after the successes early in this decade. "This is the most important match this team have played," he said. "I hope we will put on our best performance ever." Coach Matjaž Kek added: "We are in process of building a team. The play-offs are a big test for the lads. Their importance was seen in Moscow. It is understandable. Russia were better, we made too many mistakes. But we are still alive. In the last 15 minutes the players proved they can play at the right level. This period, and the goal, gives us hope."
Slovenia have been making the most of home advantage at the Ljudski vrt during this campaign, securing 13 Group 3 points from five games there and scoring 12 goals, conceding only once. "Our goal is South Africa," Kek added. "To reach it we have to win. Russia are giants, but we are brave. Also the Ljudski vrt has supported us during qualification. I know that will be the case this time as well."
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