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Page last updated at 18:25 GMT, Tuesday, 22 June 2010 19:25 UK

World Cup 2010: Slovenia boss respects England quality

Matjaz Kek
Kek has been in charge of Slovenia since January 2007

Slovenia manager Matjaz Kek still believes England can win the World Cup, despite the stuttering start to their campaign in South Africa.

Kek's side currently top Group C with four points, two clear of England, and only need a draw against England on Wednesday to advance to the last 16.

"The quality of England is clear. England, for me, are still a favourite to win the World Cup," he said.

"But if we play our game tomorrow, I am sure we can get to the second round."

Going into the tournament in South Africa, Fabio Capello's side were expected to progress easily from a group which also contains Algeria, ranked 26th in the world, and the US, ranked 14th.

But Kek says that when he saw the draw for the group he felt that Slovenia, who are ranked 33rd, had a real chance of making it through to the second round for the first time in the country's history.

606: DEBATE

"Prior to the World Cup, I wasn't so sure that England and the United States were sure to reach the second round," he said.

"It's a fight to get to the knockout phase and it is an additional motivation to play against a team that has been so big."

And Kek is confident his side will put up a fight against an England team he claims "have to go to the second round".

"We feel confident, we are courageous and we will be able to face up to England," he insisted.

Slovenia captain and former West Bromwich Albion midfielder Robert Koren said they were surprised by England's performances in their draws with the United States and Algeria.

Slovenia captain Robert Koren

Koren confident of reaching last 16

"They didn't show the type of football we expect of them. It gives us some hope, but we will see," he said.

"We know that England is a very good team, they have brilliant players, but we will not be thinking much about England, we will concentrate on our team."

Ghent defender Marko Suler, who is out with a rib injury, is unlikely to feature but Koren and playmaker Valter Birsa should play.

Slovenia reached their second World Cup finals after coming back from a first leg deficit to beat favourites Russia in the play-offs.

Kek's side enjoyed a winning start to the tournament after a goalkeeping mistake by Algeria's Faouzi Chaouchi handed the team a 1-0 victory - the country's first ever at a World Cup.

WORLD CUP PHOTO ALBUM

But Slovenia allowed the United States to fight back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 on Friday, leaving qualification from the group wide open.

Slovenia finished bottom of their group in the 2002 World Cup but skipper Koren, who was recently released by West Brom, said they had come to South Africa determined to reach the second round.

"When we came here we wanted to get past the group stage," he said. "That was our goal and it's still the same."

With a population of two million - only 30,000 of them registered footballers - Slovenia are the smallest country at the 2010 World Cup and their unexpected success has given the entire country a boost.

"Our whole nation is together following our success, it's a big thing back home," said Kek. "They are very proud of us and we want to continue making them proud."



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see also
Team guide: Slovenia
31 May 10 |  World Cup 2010
Terry sorry for England criticism
22 Jun 10 |  World Cup 2010
Terry 'mistake' irritates Capello
21 Jun 10 |  World Cup 2010
Upson to start against Slovenia
21 Jun 10 |  World Cup 2010
Slovenia rue missed opportunity
18 Jun 10 |  World Cup 2010
Slovenian Pecnik ruled out of Cup
19 Jun 10 |  World Cup 2010
Team tracker and Predictor
27 May 10 |  World Cup 2010
World Cup venues
05 Dec 09 |  World Cup 2010


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