Little Slovenia still dream despite exit

PORT ELIZABETH - Slovenia, the smallest nation taking part in the World Cup finals, still have big dreams despite watching their South African adventure come to a disappointing early end.

Slovenians discovered progress comes in small steps on football's biggest stage, where you can be sitting atop the group standings one second and then suddenly headed home the next.

The smallest nation among the 32 competing in South Africa with a population of just over 2 million, the Slovenians punched well above their weight registering a first ever World Cup success with a win over Algeria followed by a 2-2 draw against the U.S. to spend most of the group phase top of the standings.

But a 1-0 loss against a desperate England on Wednesday combined with a last gasp 1-0 win by the never-say-die Americans over Algeria to shattered Slovenia's dream of reaching the next round.

"Sport is very unpredictable but you need to benefit from defeat," offered a philosophical Slovenia coach Matjaz Kek following the crushing loss. "If you cannot gain from defeat, you do not deserve victory.

"I'm so proud of Slovenia's achievement, our squad put in an extreme amount of effort and I can only that our squad will be able to gain by this defeat."

After bowing out of the group stage in Euro 2000 and the 2002 World Cup without winning a game, Slovenia had appeared to be heading to the last 16 after taking 2-0 first half lead against the United States.

But the Slovenian's defensive frailties and inexperience were exposed by the Americans, who stormed back in the second half to steal a point and leave the European minnows needing at least a draw against England - a team Kek had tipped to win the World Cup.

Slovenia displayed plenty of fight against England but the killer instinct the top football nations' have was still lacking and will be a quality they will have to find as they set their sights on the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

"Our players still need more experience," said Kek. "You cannot really expect Slovenia to play at such a level every two years or four years but I do hope that these players will be role models for other players in Slovenia to work hard to join the team in the future.

"Then it comes to this squad, they are maturing a lot and have not yet reached the point where they have played at their best. We have huge potential and it is us to us to use this potential."

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