Slovenia qualify for the Euro 2024
Ljubljana, 20 November - The Slovenian national team realised a long-held dream and earned a place in next year's European Football Championship after a 24-year absence by defeating Kazakhstan 2:1 in the final round of qualifying on Monday.
This will be the second time Slovenia will play at the Euro and the first time after its World Cup appearance in 2010 that the team will contest a major competition.
"We are glad, happy, and proud - and deservedly so," head coach Matjaž Kek told the press after the game.
Playing on home turf in the sold-out Stožice Stadium, Slovenia needed only a draw to qualify, whereas Kazakhstan, placing third in the group rankings, had to win.
With the stakes so high, both sides were coy starting the game and there were few attempts in the early stages.
The first goal arrived in the 41st minute, when Leipzig strike Benjamin Šeško converted a penalty shot after a foul against Petar Stojanovič.
The home team left for the half-time break in high spirits, but it took Kazakhstan only minutes to equalize, the goal delivered by Ramazan Orazov, who plays for the Slovenian side Koper, in the 48th minute.
Kek, describing this as one of the most psychologically difficult games of his coaching career, acknowledged the Kazakh goal came as a shock and it took the team a while to overcome the insecurity.
The second half was tense as both teams tried to eke out an advantage. Slovenia however maintained the attack momentum and Benjamin Verbič sealed the deal in the 86th minute.
Verbič, a left winger for Greek club Panathinaikos, came in as a replacement in the 72nd minute of the game. This was only his sixth goal for the national team in 55 games.
Recalling his statement from the start of qualifying that the goal was to secure a berth at the Euro 2024, Kek said the mission has now been completed. "I think that this will provide fresh momentum for Slovenian football."
He said the current crop of national team members had "almost been proclaimed losers," but now they have "restored faith in Slovenian football."