OLYMPICS: Slovenia Beat Austria to Earn Quarter-Finals

Sochi, 18 February - The Slovenian men's ice-hockey team defeated Austria on Tuesday 4:0 (2:0, 1:0, 1:0) in a play-off match for the quarter-finals of the Olympic tournament in Sochi. Slovenia will play Sweden, the first-ranked hockey team in the world, in the knock-out match on Wednesday.

Sochi, Russia
Slovenian national ice hockey team at the Sochi Winter Olympics
Photo: Stanko Gruden/STA

Slovenia stormed out of the gate in the do-or-die match against the neighbours, with the recuperated NHL star Anže Kopitar scoring already in the 6th minute after a flurry of attacks on the Austrian goalie.

Kopitar, who was taken out of the previous match against the US due to a stomach ailment, continued to lead Slovenia's aggressive attack, which resulted in a 2:0 lead in the 12th minute despite Slovenia being one player down.

While it was expected from Austria to fight back in order not to fall too far behind, the opposite happened as Slovenia increased the lead only five minutes into the second period through its best defender Sabahudin Kovačević.

The Austrians were desperate in the last period and decided to take out the goalie in the last minutes, which only resulted in Slovenia increasing the lead to 4:0 with a fast-break by Jan Muršak in the 58th minute.

"Unbelievable, I still can't believe we made it," Kovačević said after the match, with captain Tomaž Razingar adding that the team now felt like champions after being labelled as underdogs.

Kopitar, who stressed that he felt just fine, said that the best teams in the world were in the quarter finals, adding that Slovenia would need to be very disciplined against the favoured Sweden.

"We left our harts on the ice, for Slovenia. Thanks for everyone who believed in us. I think that we can celebrate and play until the end of the tournament without pressure," goalie Robert Kristan said after the historic win.

Slovenia, which only has 150 registered ice-hockey players, is heading for the quarter-finals in what is their first Olympic ice hockey tournament ever. The team scored its first win against Slovakia last week, while falling to powerhouses Russia and the US.

President Borut Pahor congratulated the team, praising their competitiveness and team spirit and thanking them for putting Slovenia on the global hockey map. "Good luck! We will continue to root for you even louder."

© STA, 2014