Slovenia braced for breakthrough match

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JOHANNESBURG - Slovenia are one win away from becoming a respectable football nation by clinching a place in the World Cup second round and won't be overawed when they face the United States, coach Matjaz Kek said on Thursday.

Slovenia, the smallest nation in the tournament with a population of just over two million, meet the U.S. at Ellis Park in Group C on Friday knowing a victory would secure their biggest success in only their third major tournament.

"The match against the Americans is massive because we have a great opportunity to put ourselves on the map of respectable soccer nations but it's not historic," Kek told a news conference.

"We are up against a very good team, which played in last year's Confederations Cup final here, and, even if we falter, we will have another chance to advance to the knockout stage.

"Last year we were preparing for a match against San Marino in the qualifiers, now we are bracing ourselves for a clash whose outcome could put us among the world's elite teams.

GREAT PROGRESS

"We're very proud of our winter sports, which have made Slovenia famous throughout the world, but we have also made great progress in soccer in the last decade and we want to go a step further now," he added.

Slovenia, who bowed out of the group stage in Euro 2000 and the 2002 World Cup without winning a game, will meet England in their final group match in Port Elizabeth next Wednesday.

Before that Kek will have a fully fit squad to choose from against the U.S. on Friday after midfielder Rene Krhin and defender Marko Suler shook off minor knocks. He is likely to field the lineup that beat Algeria 1-0 in their opener.

Kek said he had plenty of respect for a well-balanced U.S. team but pointed out his players would not be afraid nor would they look for excuses whatever the outcome.

"Everyone has to put up with an unfamiliar ball and the vuvuzela noise so we are all on a level playing field," he said.

"Team spirit and a physical approach are the U.S. team's greatest strengths. They have several individuals apart from Landon Donovan who can make a difference but we won't be overawed."

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