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Atalanta’s Ilicic remains Slovenia star ahead of Malta showdown

At 33 years of age, Atalanta stalwart Josip Ilicic remains Slovenia’s biggest star as they look to qualify for a major tournament for the first time since the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Their slow start in this campaign has resulted in only four points after four outings. Their poor performances in the opening games of this qualification include also a 1-0 defeat to Cyprus.

Their hopes of booking a berth into next year’s World Cup edition in Qatar will go through tonight’s tie with Malta as both sides are level on four points.

The team and supporters will hope that Ilicic’s glimpses of geniality can propel them to the World Cup. Ilicic scored in the 2-1 defeat against Russia and was the assist man for their only goal in last Wednesday’s 1-1 stalemate with Slovakia.

Ilicic is a familar face to Devis Mangia, having been at Palermo when the Malta coach was at the helm of the Sicily-based club at the start of the 2010-11 Serie A season.

Devis Mangia (left) speaking to Josip Ilicic during his spell at Palermo.

Slovenian reporter Miran Zore, from Nogomania, pointed out that Ilicic has been the best player in Slovenian football for quite some time now.

“He is a leader and one of the few dangerous players in the Slovenian squad,” Zore told the Times of Malta.

“He has a lot of qualities and is a very excellent passer.”

In the post-Ilicic era, Slovenian fans will hope that 18-year old Benjamin Sesko can become the next big thing.

The RB Salzburg player made his Slovenia debut in official competitions in the Slovakia draw, playing 83 minutes as a forward and drawing the plaudits from the Slovenian public.

At the Austrian club, he has scored five goals in nine competitive matches in the 2021/2022 season so far.

“Benjamin Sesko showed that he is a jewel in the game against Slovakia,” Zore said.

“He is considered a big talent here in Slovenian football and we have been waiting for a high-quality striker for a long time now.”

Asked about what the Slovenian team is thinking heading into this Malta game, Zore said that the three points are a must for the team.

“To be honest, they are not thinking a lot about the prospect of not winning against Malta,” he said.

“It’s three points or nothing, we can’t lose.”

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