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Wednesday, 10 April, 2002, 16:03 GMT 17:03 UK
Slovenia's football fairytale
Slovenia's Zoran Pavlovic celebrates after Slovenia edge past Romania in the World play-offs
World Cup qualification was a historical moment
It has been a short but rapid rise for the small Balkans country that only gained its independence 11 years ago.

The story of success is made more remarkable by the fact that Slovenia was never a footballing stronghold when it was part of the former federation of Yugoslavia.

The most famous Slovenian of the pre-independence days was Srecko Katanec - the country's sole representative in Yugoslavia's 1990 World Cup squad.

Katanec is now coach of the national side and knows that Slovenia's achievement is impressive to say the least.

Football facts
PAST & PRESENT STARS
Srecko Katanec
Zlatko Zahovic
Marinko Galic

HISTORY
Aug 1991 Start of a new Slovenian Football League
Jun 1992 Slovenia draw 1-1 with Estonia in their first official international match
Jul 1992 Fifa accepts Slovenia as full member
1994 Begin Euro 96 qualification campaign
1995 Start of Slovenian First Division
1996 Begin qualification campaign for the World Cup in France
1998 Slovenia draws 2-2 with Greece as Euro 2000 qualification games start
1999 National team gets through to Euro 2000 after a draw against the Ukraine
2000 Slovenia grab a win, loss and draw as they go out in the group stages
2001 A draw against Romania is enough for a place at the World Cup finals
The nation was only admitted to football's world governing body in 1992, a year after declaring its independence from Yugoslavia.

Coach Bujon Prasnikar guided the side through the first three years of international friendlies before Zdenko Verdenik took over the reins for their Euro 96 qualifying campaign.

Slovenia, a nation of just 2m people, showed the resilience and strength that would characterise their national side when they nearly upset European giants Italy in their opening fixture.

During the dramatic home tie in September 1994, the Slovenes had to settle for one point when they their seemingly legitimate goal was ruled out to leave the score 1-1.

After a sensational start, Slovenia eventually finished fifth out of six teams in the group, but had shown promise.

One player who had begun to shine was flamboyant attacking midfielder Zlatko Zahovic, scoring four of the team's 13 goals during the qualifying series.

Slovenian coach Srecko Katanec
Slovenian coach Katanec has been inspirational on and off the pitch
The campaign for the World Cup in France was more disappointing, with Slovenia picking up just one point from eight games, including two defeats to local rivals Bosnia Herzegovina.

After a brief return of former coach Prasnikar, the role of managing the team was finally handed over to Katanec in autumn 1998.

His arrival at the helm sparked a change in fortunes for the team and Slovenia began an impressive run in the qualification series for Euro 2000.

The side lost just once on their travels and finished runners-up in group 2 before securing a place in Holland and Belgium with an epic 3-2 aggregate win against the Ukraine in the play-offs.

Slovenia, installed as 80-1 underdogs to become European champions, failed to get past the group stages in the tournament in 2000, but acquitted themselves well with a win, draw and a loss.

Two years later Slovenia are about to make their presence felt on the world stage as they take part in Korea/Japan 2002.

They may not be realistic title contenders, but none of their opponents will make the mistake of underestimating them.

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GROUP B
  P GD PTS
SPAIN 3 +5 9
PARAGUAY 3 0 4
SOUTH AFRICA 3 0 4
SLOVENIA 3 -5 0

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