Slovenia coach Matjaz Kek has urged his players to step up and improve on their recent performances if they want to keep their slim hopes of qualifying to the 2022 World Cup alive.
The Slovenian national team, who moved up two places in to 64th in the latest FIFA rankings, will return to action in the qualifiers when they face Malta (171) on October 8 at the National Stadium, at Ta’ Qali. Three days later, they will host Russia in Maribor.
Slovenia sit fourth on seven points, three points above Malta and six distant from second-place Russia in Group H.
Asked about the Malta game during a press conference in Slovenia, coach Kek hopes that their preparation before the upcoming games will pay dividends and achieve two positive results, starting against Malta.
“The match against Malta will be difficult and we have to show our character in order to win,” Kek said.
“The time for experiments is over and the only thing that matters now is getting the points.”
For this double-header, Kek kept faith with the experienced players including captain Jan Oblak and vice-captain Josip Ilicic. Former Serie A player Jasmin Kurtic and current Serie A players Domen Crnihoj (Venezia) and Leo Stulac (Empoli) are also called up.
Highly-rated forward Benjamin Sesko, who already played two Champions League games with Red Bull Salzburg, has also been picked by the Slovenia coach.
There are also three debutants in Zan Karnicik of Slovenia’s Mura, who just faced Tottenham in the Europa Conference League, Austin FC’s Zan Kolmanic and Timi Elsnik, captain of Olimpija Ljubljana who faced Birkirkara in the Europa League qualifications in July.
Goalkeepers: Jan Oblak (Atletico Madrid, Spain), Vid Belec (Salernitana, Italy), Igor Vekic (Pacos, Portugal).
Defenders: Miha Mevlja (Alanyaspor, Turkey), Peter Stojanovic (Empoli, Italy), Jaka Bijol (CSKA Moscow, Russia), Jure Balkovec (Fatih, Turkey), Miha Blazic (Ferencvaros, Hungary), Zan Rogelj (WSG Tirol, Austria), Zan Karnicnik (Mura, Slovenia), Zan Kolmanic (Austin, United States).
Midfielders: Jasmin Kurtic (PAOK, Greece), Domen Crnigoj (Venezia, Italy), Sandi Lovric (Lugano, Switzerland), Jon Stankovic (Sturm Graz), Leo Stulac (Empoli, Italy), Adam Cerin (Rijeka, Croatia), Timi Elsnik (Olimpij Ljubljana).
Forwards: Josip Ilicic (Atalanta, Italy), Benjamin Verbic (Dynamo Kyiv, Ukraine), Andraz Sporar (Middlesbrough, England), Luka Zahovic (Pogon, Poland), Benjamin Sesko (Red Bull Salzburg, Austria), David Tijanic (Goztepe, Turkey).