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Original Issue


Matjaz Kek's squad isn't necessarily boring—it just lacks the propensity for scandal of group mates England and Algeria and the curiosity factor of the U.S. The Slovenes got to South Africa by eschewing flair—Kek stuck to a starting XI, letting the players gel, and adopted a defense-first philosophy. The team allowed just four goals in 10 qualifiers and beat Russia on away goals in the two-game playoff, after which Prime Minister Borut Pahor dropped to his knees in the locker room and cleaned the coach's shoes.

Kek recently told Reuters, "We have no outstanding players," which suggests sandbagging is alive and well in Slovenia. The defense is anchored by prized Udinese keeper Samir Handanovic, and the midfield has dynamic playmakers in Robert Koren and Valter Birsa. If Kek is feeling frisky, he can call on Inter Milan's Rene Krhin, the only Group C player with a 2010 Champions League medal. And 6'3" striker Milivoje Novakovic is a handful in the box: In 2008--09 he was seventh in the Bundesliga with 16 goals. He's not the most gifted forward in the tournament, but he's emblematic of what makes Slovenia an upset threat: He has a way of just getting things done.



GIANT KILLERS Koren (8) & Co. upset Russia—no small feat for a minnow.