Slovenian Football: Kek, Man Who Took Slovenia to World Cup, Back as National Coach

By , 28 Nov 2018, 10:20 AM Sport
Matjaž Kek, in 2009 Matjaž Kek, in 2009 Wikimedia, Новикова Юлия GNU Free License

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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.

Kek also saw success in Croatia

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.

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