Belfast Telegraph

Slovenia boss knows all about the Windsor cauldron

By Stuart McKinley

Slovenia coach Matjaz Kek doesn’t need any lessons on the threat posed by Northern Ireland at Windsor Park tonight.

The two sides have met three times in the last three years with Northern Ireland’s two 1-0 wins guaranteeing there will be no complacency in the visitors’ ranks.

While Northern Ireland crashed to defeat in Belgrade on Friday night, Slovenia produced a spirited display in the 1-0 defeat to runaway Group C leaders Italy.

Italy are a different class than the rest in the group but the spotlight remains firmly fixed on that race for a runner-up finish.

Slovenia, who have qualified for the European Championships just once in 2000, share second spot with Serbia six points behind Italy.

And Serbia travel to Estonia tonight in what could be a decisive night in the battle for that runner-up place.

Slovenia supremo Kek does not expect confidence levels to drop in his side as Italy were powerful opponents.

“Italy were the more aggressive team, they had more of the ball and were more resolute,” he admitted.

“But, I want to praise the lads for fighting even though we did not play how we wanted.

“The Italians were more aggressive in duels, We were slow and failed to react on the goal.

“Moreover, (Gianluigi) Buffon twice showed his quality. Now we have to prepare for Northern Ireland.”

Although there was no repeat of the shocking disturbances when Italy faced Serbia in October, there were some minor problems between rival Slovenian fans before kick-off.

There was also a flare lit in the stands at the start of the second half, although it was quickly extinguished. The one good omen for Northern Ireland is the fact that their last Windsor Park win came against Slovenia.

Meanwhile, Serbia coach Vladimir Petrovic insists his side will not under-estimate Estonia.

“They are a serious, solid team who have played together a long time and are consistent in their style of play,” Petrovic said.

“It is based on solid defending and seeking chances on the counter-attack.”

Snowy conditions are expected and Petrovic added: “Estonia will certainly find it easier to cope with the winter environment, but it should not change our ambition to return home with three points.”

Manchester United defender Nemanja Vidic returns from injury along with Birmingham City striker Nikola Zigic.

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