Slovenia's Valter Birsa, Robert Koren and Bostjan Cesar after losing their match against England, 1-0.
Let me say it straight out: I’m a traitor.
I wish Slovenia had made it to the Round of 16, even had it meant the country of my birth (England) or my adopted homeland (the U.S.) went home. Well, in truth, having imbibed enough American values not to tell a lie, I was kind of bummed when Landon Donovan scored. Until that instant Slovenia’s World Cup dreams were alive.
Before you yank my Green Card, I wish the U.S. no ill will. I’ll cheer for them in the next round with all the enthusiasm of “Sam’s Army.” But Slovenia is one of the great stories of the 2010 World Cup.
One of the smallest former Yugoslav Republics, with a population of only two million — the tiniest population of any team in South Africa. It’s picture postcard beautiful, with a spectacular mountainous landscape that barely seems flat enough to host soccer fields. You’d expect Slovenia to produce the occasional championship skier, or ice hockey star, but not a world class soccer team. Most of its players compete for second tier European clubs.
And yet Slovenia came within minutes of advancing.
Earlier this morning I called a hotel in Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital, looking for a juicy quote or two from locals readying to watch the game. The best I could come up with was a succession of polite Slovenes wishing both England and Slovenia well. Bet if I’d called a pub in London the response wouldn’t have been so gracious.
After the game, Slovenia’s coach appealed for the media to give his players a chance to mourn their broken dreams.
“Our sportsmen should be left alone for a while because they are experiencing hard moments,'' he said.
Not too many hard moments, I hope.
The World Cup is a little poorer for losing the little nation that could.