STA, 29 November 2018 - Just 14 months after claiming the title of European champion, Slovenia have been denied a place in the 2019 World Cup after a crushing 82:54 defeat against Ukraine on Thursday.
The seventh defeat in nine games cemented Slovenia's ranking as the worst team in group 1 even as they brought Ukraine closer to the top three spots that come with a ticket to the final competition in China.
Qualifying was always going to be a tall order for the reigning European champions, who have been left without the players that were instrumental in winning the title in Istanbul in 2017.
NBA player Goran Dragić ended his career in the team, the naturalised American Anthony Randolph skipped the qualifications for health reasons, and Luka Dončić was not allowed to play by officials of the Dallas Mavericks, where he has just started his NBA career.
There are three more games to go until the end of the qualifying. Slovenia will take on Latvia in Ljubljana this weekend before finishing the round in February, first on the road against Turkey and in the end at home with Ukraine.
STA, 27 November 2018 - Matjaž Kek has been appointed the new head coach of the Slovenian national football team, the Slovenian Football Association (NZS) announced on Tuesday. The 57-year-old returns to the helm of the national team after a successful stint in 2007-2011, when he led Slovenia to their last major competition, the 2010 World Cup.
The NZS said at a press conference in Brdo pri Kranju that Kek would coach the team in the qualifiers for the 2020 Euro and for the 2022 World Cup, and at the World Cup, if he managed to take Slovenia to the tournament in Qatar.
"It is an honour and a pleasure to be entrusted the position of the national team head coach. It is a great motivation and a huge challenge at the same time," Kek told the press, adding he was back to do something good for Slovenian football.
"If the situation was ideal, I wouldn't be here. But let's look into the future, as we have potential, including in the young selections. The main task will be to put it all together and produce good results," he added.
NZS president Radenko Mijatović said that Kek was exactly what the Slovenian team needed at the moment, adding that he would have the full backing of the football federation.
The Maribor native is replacing Igor Benedejčič, who lead the team in the last two matches in the UEFA Nations League as interim coach following the dismissal of Tomaž Kavčič in mid-October.
Kek will be under some pressure to take the team back on track after a dismal performance in the new international competitions replacing friendly matches and serving in part as qualifiers for the 2020 Euro.
Slovenia failed to score a single win in League C, the third tier in the competition, and was relegated to the lowest-ranking League D, with the unconvincing play and some players having problems with loyalty to the team were calling for change.
A large part of the public had wanted Kek to take over after he had successfully managed the Croatian club Rijeka, taking the club to their first ever Croatian championship title in 2017, and finishing as runners-up in 2014, 2015 and 2016.
After Kek recently parted ways with Rijeka after five and a half years, he emerged as a logical candidate to replace Kavčič, who struggled to make order in the team which had also faced a number of injuries and cancellations by key players.
A son of a football player, Kek started playing for Maribor in 1979, and later played in Austria's Spittal and GAK. He returned to his native town in 1995 to play another four seasons for Maribor, winning two national championships and two league cups.
After returning at 38, he studied football coaching in Maribor and soon replaced Bojan Prašnikar at the helm of the Slovenian perennial champions. He took Maribor to two national championships and a national cup win in the 2002-2004 period.
Before signing with Rijeka, he also briefly coached Al-Ittihad of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in the 2011-2012 season.
Kek joined the national team in 2006 as the head coach of the U-16 team, and in the following year succeeded Brane Oblak as the coach of the senior team, leading Slovenia in 49 matches to score 20 wins, nine draws and 20 losses.
Under Kek, Slovenia reached their highest FIFA ranking ever, at 15th in the autumn of 2010. He is the only Slovenian coach apart from Srečko Katanec to take Slovenia to a major competition (Euro or World Cup).
Kek and Katanec also hold the distinction of being the only individuals to both play for and coach the national team, with the former having his only cap for Slovenia in November 1992 at a friendly match with Cyprus.
Ruka, Finland, played host to the world’s best ski jumpers over the weekend, although without a still recovering Peter Prevc. His brother Domen was abl to compete, and managed the best Slovene result, 4th, with a jump of 136.5 m and 134.7 points. The event was won by Japan’s Ryoyu Kobayashi (14.0 m, 148,4 points), followed by Andreas Wellinger (Germany, 136 m, 139.4 points) and Kamil Stoch (Poland, 136.5 m, 139.3 points).
The next Slovene on this list was Timi Zajc, the 18-year old for whom great things are expected in the future. In Finland he finished just outside the top 10, in 11th place, with a jump of 130.0 m (124.8 points). Mogel Zak was 20th, with a jump of 124.0 m (115.1 points).
STA, 23 November 2018- Ice hockey immediately springs to mind in Slovenia at the mention of Jesenice, an old steel town in the north-west of the country. The Jesenice hockey club, which dominated the sport in Yugoslavia and Slovenia for decades, is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year.
The small industrial town, which one passes on the A2 motorway north of Bled, became synonymous with ice hockey between 1957 and 1971 when HK Acroni Jesenice won 15 consecutive Yugoslav champion titles.
While engaged in a constant rivalry with the Ljubljana hockey club, Jesenice's total number of titles in the former common country reached 23. The club went on to win nine more championship titles in independent Slovenia, including in the first three seasons in 1991-1993.
The club, known for mostly developing and using local players, has played a crucial role in the impressively high level of the sport in Slovenia.
The national team reached the quarter-finals of the Olympic tournament in Sochi in 2014 and also qualified for the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, despite Slovenia only having a handful of clubs and fewer than 200 registered players.
However, having lost the Yugoslav markets and with the general decline of industrial production, the town of Jesenice has been struggling and unfortunately this has also been true in recent years for the ice hockey club.
It became the first Slovenian club to be invited to the Austrian Hockey League EBEL in 2006 and also managed to win the Slovenian league titles in 2008-2011, but the club went bankrupt and was dissolved in 2012.
While the hockey school was preserved, efforts have been under way to rebuild the club from scratch. An anniversary ceremony to be held at the end of the month in the town's museum complex Kolpern, located in the former premises of the now downsized steelworks, hopes to contribute.
"The steelworks were like a mother and were involved in all aspects of life here. With the downfall of Yugoslavia it became clear that this support was no longer possible," Miha Rebolj, a former player and one of the leading figures in efforts to salvage the club, reflected on Jesenice's history.
"Then there was also the curse of the EBEL league, which demanded substantial investments. The debts accumulated, the senior team was disbanded. But us veterans have managed to save Jesenice hockey, a new club has emerged that is now mounting all the challenges it encounters," he added.
STA, 16 November 2018 - The Ski Jumping World Cup season will start this weekend in Poland's Wisla without Slovenia's best jumper Peter Prevc, who needs additional training following his recovery from two ankle surgeries. Timi Zajc, a 18-year-old talent who stood out during the summer, is now the main hope of the Slovenian team, which has a new headcoach.
Prevc, who dominated the 2016 World Cup like no other before him, went through a slump in the last two seasons, but was still Slovenia's best jumper last year in 15th place overall.
Ankle issues cost him the entire preparation period for the new season and Prevc was only able to make his first jumps at the end of October.
Asked when he expects to return to the circuit, Prevc, whose ankle is still not at 100 percent, explained "the predictions are changing fast currently".
"Somewhere between Kuusamo (24 November) and Engelberg (15 December)... The 4-Hill tournament (31 December) is what I consider may last train for the season. I think I should have enough jumps and confidence by then.
"But my goal is not 28th or 32nd place. When my jumps allow me to be among the top 15, I will return without reservations," the 26-year-old has told the STA.
Meanwhile, the team's modest results in the last season ended a seven-year period under headcoach Goran Janus, who led Slovenian jumpers to a spectacular 46 World Cup victories.
Janus has been succeeded by Gorazd Bertoncelj, who has made some changes in the preparation period, for instance letting as many as 17 jumpers compete during the summer cup.
The only one to stand out among the Slovenians was Zajc, who made his World Cup debut in the last season, when his top result was a 12th place.
The remaining jumpers to start the season in Wisla are veteran Jernej Damjan along with Anže Semenič, Anže Lanišek, Žak Mogel, Bor Pavlovčič and Tomaž Naglič.
Bertoncelj has been very open about his goals this season: "We want one jumper among the top 6 in the final overall rankings, another one among the top 15, while we also wish to have eight podium finishes during the season."
"Meanwhile, the biggest goal is a medal at the World Championship in Seefeld and of course a podium finish at the season final at home in Planica," he announced.
STA, 13 November 2018 - Slovenia's Jan Oblak has been named the best goalkeeper in the Spanish premier football league La Liga in the 2017/2018 season, which is the third time in a row that the 25-year-old from Škofja Loka, who plays for Atletico Madrid, received the Zamora Trophy conferred by the Spanish daily sport newspaper Marca.
Oblak joined the Spanish side in the 2014/15 season, when he signed a six-year contract worth EUR 16m to become the fifth highest-paid goalkeeper in history, the highest-paid Slovenian football player ever and the highest-paid goalkeeper in La Liga.
He received his first Zamora Trophy, named after goalkeeper Ricardo Zamora, in the 2015/16 season, when he conceded only 18 goals in 38 matches, defending the title in the next season, when he received 21 goals in 29 matches.
In the past season in the Spanish first division, he played in 37 matches for Atletico Madrid to concede only 22 goals for a 0.59 ratio, which was far above the rest of the goalkeeper competition.
With his third title of the best goalkeeper in the Spanish first division, Oblak equalised with Zamora himself and five other goalkeeping legends. The Slovenian is now only behind Juan Acuna and Santiago Canizares (4) and Victor Valdes and Antoni Ramallets (5).
Only two other players received three trophies in a row, with Arconada winning the accolade between the 1979/80 and 1981/82 seasons and Valdes between the 2007/08 and the 2011/12 seasons.
Along with ski jumping and climbing, judo is another of the individual sports that Slovenia does far better than many much bigger nations, a fact that seen over the weekend in Uzbekistan, at the Taskent Grand Prix. Here Slovenia managed to achieve 8th place in the overall rankings, with Adrian Gomboc winning gold in the men’s -66 kg division, while Kaja Kajzer picked up the bronze in the women’s -57 kg, as did Leski Andreja in the women’s -63 kg
Kosovo had the best performance among the nations fielding atheletes, winning three golds and one silver in the women’s events, with the full results available at the International Judo Federation’s website.
STA, 8 November 2018 - Interim head coach of the national football team, Igor Benedejčič, presented on Thursday the roster for the last two matches in the UEFA Nations League, against Norway on 16 November and Bulgaria on 19 November. The roster does not feature star midfielder Kevin Kampl, who has announced his retirement from the national team.
Presenting the roster at a press conference in Brdo pri Kranju, Benedejčič said that Kampl had informed the Slovenian Football Association about his decision last week.
The 28-year old, who plays for Germany's Leipzig, debuted for the national team in 2012, scoring two goals in 28 matches for Slovenia. His last match for the national team was on 6 September, when Slovenia lost at home to Bulgaria.
"I regret that he has made such a decision. He is an excellent player, which he has been proving for years in the club," Benedejčič said, expressing hope that Kampl would change his mind and help the team turn the things around.
This is not the only problem for the new coach, as the team will also be without veterans Bojan Jokić (injury) and Josip Iličić (yellow cards).
Slovenia are at the bottom of Group 3 of League C of the UEFA Nations League with one point and are in serious danger of being relegated to League D. Slovenia are facing the opponents who are at the top of the group with nine points each.
"We are aware of the position we are in. We are facing two tough matches, with both opponents fighting for the first place. It is up to us to give our best and try to stay in the group," said the coach.
* Slovenia's roster for the matches against Norway and Bulgaria:
- goalkeepers: Vid Belec (Sampdoria), Aljaž Ivačič (Olimpija), Matic Kotnik (Panionios);
- defenders: Jure Balkovec (Hellas Verona), Miha Blažič (Ferencvaros), Bojan Jokić (Ufa), Luka Krajnc (Frosinone), Miha Mevlja (Zenit), Nemanja Mitrović (Jagiellonia), Nejc Skubic (Konyaspor), Petar Stojanović (Dinamo Zagreb), Aljaž Struna (Palermo);
- midfielders: Jaka Bijol (CSKA Moscow), Domen Črnigoj (Lugano), Amir Dervišević (Maribor), Josip Iličić (Atalanta), Rene Krhin (Nantes), Rudi Požeg Vancaš (Celje), Rajko Rotman (Kayserispor), Leo Štulac (Parma), Benjamin Verbič (Dynamo Kyiv), Miha Zajc (Empoli);
- forwards: Robert Berić (St. Etienne), Roman Bezjak (Jagiellonia), Andraž Šporar (Slovan Bratislava), Luka Zahović (Maribor).
Slovenia’s Domen Škofic took first place on the podium in Xiamen, China, over the weekend, getting gold in the men’s lead event, with Italy’s Stefano Ghisolfi in second and South Korea’s Hyunbin Min in third.
Sisay Lemma Kasaye, from Ethiopia, won the 23rd Ljubljana Marathon and set a track record of 2:04:58, knocking 3 minutes 21 seconds off the previous fastest time, 2:08:19, achieved three years ago. The current world record for men is 2:01:39, as set by Eliud Kipchoge (Kenya) earlier this year in Berlin.
STA, 24 October 2018 - More than 26,650 runners have signed up for the 23rd Ljubljana Marathon to be held in the capital this weekend. The organisers are hoping for records in both women's and men's competitions. They are also hoping to win the top road race label by the Association of International Marathons and Distance Races (AIMS).