Slovenia has been drawn in a tough Group H against neighbours Croatia in the European World Cup qualifiers for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
The draw to determine the qualifying groups was conducted on Monday, December 7, pitting 55 European teams into ten qualifying groups, with 13 of those making up the 32 spots at the next edition of the World Cup in two years’ time.
Seeded in Pot 4, Slovenia was drawn against 2018 host nation Russia, Slovakia, Cyprus, Malta and 2018 losing finalists and neighbours Croatia.
Slovenia has not beaten Croatia in their eight encounters played since 1995, drawing three and losing the five, their last defeat coming in a 3-2 friendly loss in 2008.
“Certainly the charm of all this is Croatia,” said Slovenia head coach Matjaž Kek following the draw. “I already have quite a few calls from journalists from Croatia. Very challenging and also a competitive group. Slovenia is not the favourite, but it will do everything to prepare well and use all the opportunities it has in the playing staff.”
Slovakia and Malta were previously drawn against Slovenia in the qualifying Group F for the 2018 World Cup, with Slovenia finishing fourth in a group topped by England as they missed out on the global showpiece in Russia.
With favourable records against Slovakia, Cyprus and Malta and an evenly-match record against the Russians (two wins, two losses and a draw in five previous matches), Slovenia will be encouraged by their current form, having gone unbeaten in all eight internationals played this year as they earned promotion to League B in the UEFA Nations League.
Currently ranked 62nd in the World, Slovenia will be attempting to qualify for a World Cup for just the third time in their history, having only previously appeared at the prestigious tournaments in 2002 and 2010, where they exited in the group stages on both occasions.
Qualifiers will be played between March and November 2021, with all ten group winners securing qualification, with the ten group runners up, alongside the two best group winners from the UEFA Nations League who failed to secure a qualification spot in their group, taking part in a three-way play-off.
The 2022 World Cup in Qatar will take place between November 21 and December 18, the very first time the tournament will not take place in the European summer months.
Full 2022 FIFA World Cup European qualifying draw:
Group A: Portugal, Serbia, Republic of Ireland, Luxembourg, Azerbaijan
Group B: Spain, Sweden, Greece, Georgia, Kosovo
Group C: Italy, Switzerland, Northern Ireland, Bulgaria, Lithuania
Group D: France, Ukraine, Finland, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kazakhstan
Group E: Belgium, Wales, Czech Republic, Belarus, Estonia
Group F: Denmark, Austria, Scotland, Israel, Faroe Islands, Moldova
Group G: Netherlands, Turkey, Norway, Montenegro, Latvia, Gibraltar
Group H: Croatia, Slovakia, Russia, Slovenia, Cyprus, Malta
Group I: England, Poland, Hungary, Albania, Andorra, San Marino
Group J: Germany, Romania, Iceland, North Macedonia, Armenia, Liechtenstein