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NZS and Kek set a clear goal: qualifying for the Euro in Germany



Kek called up newcomers Vipotnik and Drkušić, as well as starter Kurtić

Slovenia will start the qualification for Euro 2024 with the expected core of players, to which Matjaž Kek added two newcomers, including Maribor striker Žan Vipotnik, and Jasmin Kurtić, who has not played for more than four months due to a knee injury, has also been called up.

At noon, coach Matjaž Kek presented the national team list for the first two qualifying matches in the fight for Euro 2024. On March 23, Slovenia will be visiting Kazakhstanand then on March 26 at home against San Marino.

“You don’t go to the new qualifications to be a nice third or a good fourth. We don’t need to be humble. Rather, we need to be respectful and self-confident. Consistency is necessary for advancement,” the selector stressed at the outset Matjaž Kek and continued: “Everything has to be based on the field. I am sure that Slovenia will also be asked a lot in this group. We have to be determined.”

President of the NHS Radenko Mijatović reiterated that the goal is to qualify for Euro 2024. “Expectations are high. It has remained in the strong League B of the Nations League. The optimism we express is also based on the fact that the team has been playing together for some time, that they are well managed. With the exception of San Marino, the group is even, we want one of two places leading to Germany at the European Championships. I’m sure the boys are capable of doing it.” Mijatović was clear about the task of the men’s national team in 2023.

Two newcomers called up: Vipotnik and Drkušić

Among the 26 selected by Kek, there are quite a few problems with injuries, which means that it is almost not a final list of players with whom Slovenia will start the qualification. The most questionable is Jasmin Kurtić, the last few weeks have been the problems of striker Andraž Šporar. On Sunday, Domen Črnigoj was injured at the end of the match in Milan. “Kurtić has started training, but he is very, very questionable,” explained Kek, who will see his condition with his own eyes at the beginning of the meeting.

Among the newcomers, an expected name in the attack stands out. The best scorer of the First League Žan Vipotnik has started, but according to Maribor’s assurances, he will play again on Saturday against Radomlje at the latest.

“We have reserves, their clubs have already been informed,” Kek confirmed that he also has substitutions up his sleeve if he loses national team players due to injuries. Along with Vipotnik, a complete newcomer in the national team is also a defender Vanja Drkušićwho regularly plays in Sochi and indirectly replaced the former member of this Russian club Miha Mevlja.

Two additional challenges to start with: a long course and artificial grass

The selector set his sights on the first rival – Kazakhstan. “If you take a quick look at the Kazakhs, there is a difference between their playing at home and away. The artificial grass also has some influence. Physically, they are a good team, they have their own rhythm, they are aggressive. A national team against which we do not need to be humble, but we need to be respectful and determined,” emphasized the 61-year-old Maribor resident.

Due to the longest hosting and the start of the qualifications, there is a special emphasis on logistics and preparation. Training will therefore also take place on artificial grass, and representatives of the National Health Service also visited the artificial green in Astana, where they can also close the roof over the stadium.

Slovenia’s roster for the matches with Kazakhstan (March 23) and San Marino (March 26):

Goalkeepers (3): Jan Oblak (Atletico Madrid), Vid Belec (Apoel), Matevž Vidovšek (Olimpija);

Defenders (8): Petar Stojanović (Empoli), Jaka Bijol (Udinese), Jure Balkovec (Alanyaspor), Miha Blažič (Angers), Jon Gorenc Stanković (Sturm), Žan Karničnik (Celje), David Brekalo (Viking), Vanja Drkušić (Soči);

Midfielders (8): Jasmin Kurtić (Paok), Benjamin Verbič (Panathinaikos), Miha Zajc (Fenerbahce), Domen Črnigoj (Salernitana), Sandi Lovrić (Udinese), Adam Gnezda Čerin (Panathinaikos), Tomi Horvat (Sturm), Timi Max Elšnik (Olimpija);

Forwards (7): Andraž Šporar (Panathinaikos), Luka Zahović (Pogon Szczecin), Benjamin Šeško (Salzburg), Žan Celar (Lugano), Andres Vombergar (San Lorenzo), Žan Vipotnik (Maribor).

Without Sikošek, with Kurtić

The age of the current national team Jasmin Kurtić due to a knee injury, he has not played for PAOK since October 30. In Thessaloniki, after a four-month absence, the local media reported that the season was already lost for him. But the 34-year-old from Kanižarica, who has played 82 matches for Slovenia so far and was irreplaceable in the midfield under Kek, is once again among the national team.

With 34 years and 82 games, Jasmin Kurtić is by far the oldest and most experienced representative of Slovenia.  Photo: AP

Looking for a solution on the left side in defense, he made the first eleven last year Gregor Sikošek. The Maribor defender was injured in the match against Celje on February 26, and a few days later purple confirmed that the season for the national team is over.

Main asset: goalkeeper and first striker

Slovenia’s starting line-up in 2022 was otherwise: Jan Oblak in goal, in front of him the defensive quartet Žan Karničnik, Miha Blažič, Jaka Bijol and Gregor Sikošek, in the middle the quartet of midfielders Petar Stojanović, Adam Gnezda-Čerin, Jasmin Kurtić and Benjamin Verbič and in duo Andraž Šporar and Benjamin Šeško attack.

Captain Jan Oblak just on Monday, he was chosen as the player of the match for the victory of Atlético at Girona (1:0), he shone with two extraordinary interventions and remained unbeaten for the tenth time in the championship. In the last seven games, he has conceded only three goals, and the club is only burdened with La Liga.

Over the winter, the club’s youngest representative, who is already the most important in the attack, found himself on the sidelines. Benjamin Šeško quickly bounced back and grabbed chances off the bench, scoring five goals in RB Salzburg’s last five games to return to the starting line-up.

The expectations in Maribor were fulfilled: Žan Vipotnik, the top scorer of the First League with 14 goals, is the new representative.  But only if he is healthy, as he missed the last game with Tabor due to problems with the thigh muscle.  Photo: www.alesfevzer.com

A golden opportunity to return to the big stage

The holder of the Slovenian group is in the favorable qualification group H Denmark, which disappointed at the World Cup. It was drawn from the second drum Finland, which is hungry for its first appearance at the European championships. They will try to interfere in the game for the first two places from the leeward side Kazakhstan and in particular Northern Ireland. The group is completed by the worst European national team San Marino.

Slovenia has not played at a major championship since South Africa 2010, when Kek led the national team for the first time. With two places that lead directly to the tournament of the old continent with 24 national teams, the Football Association of Slovenia and the selectors have set a clear goal – qualifying for Euro 2024.

In June with Finland and Denmark

The Slovenians have a favorable start to the qualifiers, but for the introduction they have a long trip to Astana and a visit to Kazakhstan. Three days later, there is a home match in Ljubljana against San Marino. After the end of the club season, in mid-June, there will be two matches against the top teams of Group H: in Finland and at home against Denmark. After four out of 10 games, it will already be widely known how close Germany is.

Germany will host the 17th European Football Championship between June 14 and July 14, 2024.

The national team will gather on Monday at Brdo pri Kranje, where they will have only two days to train before the longest journey of the qualification – to Astana.  Photo: www.alesfevzer.com



Thursday, March 23, at 4:00 p.m.: KAZAKHSTAN – SLOVENIA

Sunday, March 26, at 6:00 p.m.: SLOVENIA – SAN MARINO

Friday, June 16, at 8:45 p.m.: FINLAND – SLOVENIA

Monday, June 19, at 8:45 p.m.: SLOVENIA – DENMARK

Thursday, September 7, at 8:45 p.m.: SLOVENIA – NORTHERN IRELAND

Sunday, September 10, at 8:45 p.m.: SAN MARINO – SLOVENIA

Saturday, October 14, at 6:00 p.m.: SLOVENIA – FINLAND

Tuesday, October 17, at 8:45 p.m.: NORTHERN IRELAND – SLOVENIA

Friday, November 17, at 8:45 p.m.: DENMARK – SLOVENIA

Monday, November 20, at 8:45 p.m.:SLOVENIA – KAZAKHSTAN

Source: Rtvslo

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