LJUBLJANA, March 25 (Reuters) – Slovenia’s superb 1-0 victory over more heralded neighbours Croatia in World Cup qualifying showed they are more than just a nation of Alpine skiers, defender Petar Stojanovic said on Thursday.
The Slovenians outplayed the 2018 World Cup runners-up on Wednesday at the start of Group H qualifying for next year’s tournament in Qatar and Stojanovic, who plays his club football for Croatian champions Dinamo Zagreb, was delighted.
It was also Slovenia’s first win in 10 competitive and friendly games against Croatia, having suffered six defeats in the previous nine, offering some rare local bragging rights to a country more famed for producing skiers, such as double Olympic gold medallist Tina Maze.
“We’ve been told many times that we are just a skiing nation but we showed that we have a great national soccer team too,” the 25-year-old right back was quoted as saying by Croatia’s Index website (www.index.hr).
“It’s fantastic to start the qualifiers with a win against the previous World Cup’s runners-up and now we must keep up the good work.”
Slovenia, a nation of two million which gained independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991, last qualified for the World Cup in 2010 in South Africa when they narrowly missed out on a place in the knockouts.
The victory over Croatia completed a memorable week for Stojanovic, who featured in Dinamo’s stunning 3-2 aggregate win over Tottenham Hotspur in their last-16 Europa League tie last Thursday.
Having stifled Tottenham’s forwards in the 3-0 return leg win, when Croatia winger Mislav Orsic bagged a hat-trick, Stojanovic brought his Dinamo team mate back down to earth on Wednesday with another superb display.
“Saying that I am delighted would be an understatement because winning a game for Slovenia is a special feeling and notably so against a team of Croatia’s quality,” he said.
“Hats off to (Croatia’s) Orsic and Ivan Perisic, they are outstanding players and I could not have contained them on my flank without my team mates’ help. We always put our bodies on the line for each other.”
Slovenia next visit Russia on Saturday and Cyprus on Tuesday and Stojanovic stressed they needed to avoid the early jitters they had against the Croatians.
“The first thing the coach told us after the match is that we must not repeat the poor start to the game that we had against Croatia,” he said.
“It was a whole lot of respect for the Croatians, but we have a big heart and we fear no one.”
(Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic; Editing by Toby Davis)
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