A republic with two legislative bodies Slovenia shares borders with Italy to the west, Austria to the north, Hungary to the east and Croatia to the south. The country has warm summers and cold winters with skiing conditions perfect from December to March. Perhaps an unlikely footballing destination, it is one that has left a recent mark upon European football.
Today Slovenia can perhaps be regarded as the most European of the former Yugoslav states.
First settled by the Slavs in the 6th century AD, Slovenia became a Hungarian province in the eleventh century. Austria then gained control of the region in the 16th century and Slovenia was then absorbed into the vast Austro-Hungarian empire. By the end of the WW1, it had become part of the Kingdom of Croats, Serbs and Slovenes a place which soon became Yugoslavia in 1929.
Mountainous with high and spectacular regions near the western Austrian border in 1991 Slovenia became the first former Yugoslav republic to declare independence. This action did produce a military response from the Yugoslav army but the conflict lasted only 10 days unlike in nearby Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia where the war became bloody, bitter and sectarian on ethnic lines.
Almost half of Slovenia is densely forested but the most fertile region is in the east where the Drava river flows south into Croatia. Like the Croats to the south Slovenia is a largely Roman Catholic country and is ethnically dominated by Slovene people.
Slovenia’s tourist industry is based around its mountains rather than its sunshine coastline with the highest peak Mt. Triglav at 2,864m being an iconic symbol of the nation. While Croatia has numerous points of interest on its coastline the port of Koper on the Gulf of Venice remains the important transit point to Italy and nearby Trieste.
It’s the alpine scenery which is the main tourist attraction and allows outdoor pursuits aplenty for the visitor. Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj are two of the most well-known lakes with Kranjska Gora the best-known ski resort.
The Slovenian Prva Liga is the highest league of football in Slovenia. Also known by the abbreviation 1. SNL the PrvaLiga format is contested on a ’round robin’ basis with the championship awarded to the club that is top of the league at the end of the season. The teams at the bottom of the division are relegated to the second tier Slovenska Nogometna Liga or 2.SNL.
The Slovenian league was established after the independence of Slovenia in 1991, upon the dissolution of the Yugoslavian leagues. Before that, the top Slovenian teams competed in Yugoslavian football but only NK Maribor, Olimpija and Nafta managed to compete in the top Yugoslav first league.
Slovenian football is dominated by Olimpija and NK Maribor but Domžale, Koper and Gorica have all tasted title success. Only NK Maribor have made any impression in European competition managing to reach the European Champions League on a number of occasions.
Where Slovenia has been most successful is at international level with the Slovenian international team a shock qualifier for UEFA Euro 2000. The team played well in Belgium and Holland achieving draws with Yugoslavia and Norway. But they lost to Spain 2–1 in a final game and departed the tournament.
Slovenia then achieved another major success two years later when they managed to qualify for the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Japan and South Korea. The team did not lose a match in its whole qualifying campaign but the performances in Asia were poor with the so-called golden generation of Srečko Katanec and Zlatko Zahovič failing to make any impact. In 2010 the team also managed to reach the South Africa world cup.
Stadia in Slovenia is slowly becoming modernised and while much smaller in terms of capacity limits the main stadiums are ahead of those in nearby Serbia and Croatia in terms of development. The most well-known stadiums are those in Maribor (Ljudski vrt); Celje (Arena Petrol) and that in Ljubljana (Stozice).
Slovenian football perhaps lacks the passion of the Bosnians or the Serbs and in the capital, Ljubljana football is not a driving force as it can be in Belgrade and Zagreb. But the Slovenians are smart and effective. Despite being a small nation they have managed to forge a place at a number of international tournaments thanks to a thoughtful tactical organisation that has brought them through difficult qualifying groups.
You can see all images from Slovenia here.