Slovenia v Russia preview
Slovenia and Russia clash in their crucial World Cup Qualifier with the tie still finely in the balance.
Last Updated: 18/11/09 11:27am
Slovenia and Russia clash in their crucial World Cup Qualifier in Maribor with the tie still finely in the balance.
Guus Hiddink's side looked clear favourites to book their place in South Africa after Everton midfielder Diniyor Bilyaletdinov scored twice in Moscow on Saturday.
However, Slovenia clawed themselves back into the tie as Nejc Pecnik grabbed a vital away goal in the dying minutes to leave the score at 2-1 going into the second leg.
Slovenia have been successful in two of their last three two-legged play-off ties, against Ukraine to reach Euro 2000 and versus Romania to qualify for the 2002 World Cup - the last time they reached the finals of the competition.
However, on both those occasions Slovenia were defending a 2-1 lead in an away second leg rather than vice versa this time out.
Manager Matjaz Kek will have to find the balance between attack and defence as his side only needs a 1-0 win to qualify thanks to the vital away goal.
Goalscorer Pecnik could be handed a start on Slovenia's grass pitch, which will prove a different challenge than the plastic surface in Moscow, while West Brom midfielder Robert Koran and Rene Krhin may feature in a more attacking line-up.
Slovenia have an excellent record at the Ljudski vrt Stadium, picking up 13 points at home in Group Three and conceding just once, and Kek is optimistic ahead of the showdown clash.
"The play-offs are a big test for the lads," he said. "Russia were better, we made too many mistakes. But we are still alive.
"Our goal is South Africa. 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.
"In the last 15 minutes (of the first leg) the players proved they can play at the right level. This period, and the goal, gives us hope."
Russia have no new injury worries ahead of their trip and Hiddink could name an unchanged starting XI.
His side have scored in every away qualifying match except one during the campaign and the manager insists they will try and grab a crucial goal.
He said: "We were disappointed because an away goal gives Slovenia an advantage. But the boys' mood has picked up.
"We are one goal ahead and will try to score at their place, though it will not be easy."