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World Cup: Slovenia Has Smallest Team in Games - 2002-04-26

Slovenia is the smallest and least populated country taking part in this years' World Cup football tournament in South Korea and Japan. But the former Yugoslav Republic could prove to be big trouble for the other teams in its group.

Ask the average football fan to name star players from Slovenia and the answer could be a blank stare. Slovenia is known more for its Winter sports athletes including its bronze medal-winning ski jumpers at this year's Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

But now its football team has quietly proven to be a tough squad made up of players who can dribble, pass, shoot and most importantly wear down opponents. Derek Rae is an international football expert and he says the Slovenes are known for their aggressive style of play.

"Slovenia burst onto the scene at Euro 2000 and they really took that tournament by the scruff of the neck," he said. "They were very much the neutrals choice there because they played attacking football. And it was not just a case of stepping back and trying to avoid a few thumpings, they really went for the jugular."

The Slovene team leader is mercurial midfielder Zlatko Zahovic, who plays for the Portuguese club Benfica. Zahovic has scored 31 goals in 62 appearances for his country. However, Derek Rae says that the whole team could be a surprise for many fans.

"This country of three million seems to produce new players every year. It is remarkable that football is not necessarily the number one sport in Slovenia," he said. "But they have taken the national team to their hearts the last two seasons. I think they are ready to give this a little bit of a go. I would not be at all surprised to see them get out of the group."

Slovenia opens the World Cup June second against Spain. The Slovenes then take on South Africa June 8 and Paraguay June 10.