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Slovenia Euro 2024 squad named - Arsenal target headlines players to watch

Sports Mole looks at the players to watch in Slovenia's 26-man Euro 2024 squad, including Benjamin Sesko, Jan Oblak and Josip Ilicic.

Slovenia head coach Matjaz Kek has revealed a list of 26 players for his Euro 2024 squad, as the world's 57th-ranked nation endeavour to defy the odds and seal a top-two finish in the section.

Not since Euro 2000 - where they went out in the group stage without a single victory to their name - have Slovenia competed at the continent's top competition, but their performance in qualifying offers hope of Kek's men springing a surprise in Group C.

Indeed, Slovenia won seven of their 10 preliminary fixtures en route to a second-placed finish behind Denmark, who will be one of their three group foes in Germany alongside Serbia and England, one of the favourites to go all the way.

Before attempting to pick up their first-ever Euros win as an independent nation, though, Slovenia defeated Armenia 2-1 in their first friendly and played out a 1-1 draw with Bulgaria on June 8.

From a modest selection of 26 - which has been cut from a provisional 30 - few names still stand out, and here, Sports Mole picks out some of the Slovenians to watch at this year's European Championships.


Benjamin Sesko

RB Leipzig's Benjamin Sesko during the warm up on February 13, 2024© Reuters

One man who has already put himself in the shop window ahead of Euro 2024 is RB Leipzig's embryonic attacker Benjamin Sesko, who will add a few more pounds to his value should he shine in Germany next month.

A product of the famed Red Bull Salzburg academy, Sesko initially struggled to adapt to life in the Bundesliga but hit an extremely rich vein of form in the closing stages of the season, scoring in each of Leipzig's last seven top-flight matches of the campaign to end with a respectable 18 goals.

Standing at 6ft 4in tall, the imposing marksman - who turned 21 on May 31 - also shone for Slovenia in Euro 2024 qualifying with five goals in the section, second only to Rasmus Hojlund's seven, and he boasts a total of 17 direct contributions in 29 appearances for his nation.

All of Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United are said to view Sesko as a prime attacking target for the summer transfer window, but Leipzig are fighting tooth and nail to keep hold of the aerially dominant striker, who is sure to give Harry Maguire a proper run for his money from set-pieces.


Jan Oblak

Atletico Madrid's Jan Oblak on January 18, 2024© Reuters

Long heralded as one of the finest glove-wearers in the men's game, Atletico Madrid stalwart Jan Oblak will sport the captain's armband for Slovenia at this year's European Championships, and it is easy to forget that he is still only 31 years of age.

Oblak could therefore have another decade of football left in his legs and won his 65th cap for the national team during their draw with Bulgaria; the goalkeeper has kept a respectable 30 clean sheets in that time.

Due to Slovenia's recent failures on the international stage, Euro 2024 will represent Oblak's first major tournament for his country - whom he has skippered since 2020 - and the former Benfica man already has four Slovenian Player of the Year honours next to his name.

Soon to celebrate his 10th anniversary as an Atletico Madrid player, the 6ft 2in shot-stopper has not been one of the best goalkeepers on the planet in a statistical sense this term - now being overshadowed by the likes of Alisson Becker and Emiliano Martinez - but his presence in between the sticks remains as intimidating as ever.


Josip Ilicic

Josip Ilicic celebrates scoring for Atalanta BC in November 2021© Reuters

Remember him?

A cult hero of Serie A, experienced striker Josip Ilicic was formerly the heartbeat of the free-scoring Atalanta BC side before and during the behind-closed-doors era, forming that fearsome attacking trident with Luis Muriel and Duvan Zapata and excelling in both a scoring and playmaking sense.

The 36-year-old reached double figures in three straight Serie A campaigns - few can forget his four-goal haul against Valencia in the 2019-20 Champions League either - and also laid on 10 assists in the 2020-21 season, but he called time on his Atalanta career in 2022 after struggling with mental health problems.

Ilicic has since rediscovered his golden touch in his homeland with Maribor - laying on eight goals and 11 assists in 31 Slovenian PrvaLiga matches in the 2023-24 season - and he is the second-highest capped player in the Slovenia squad with 81 appearances to his name.

In that time, the wily attacker has chipped in with 17 goals and 17 assists, coming off the bench to net his nation's winner in their recently friendly contest with Armenia to mark a dream Slovenia comeback.


Slovenia Euro 2024 squad in full:

Goalkeepers: Jan Oblak (Atletico Madrid), Vid Belec (APOEL), Igor Vekic (Vejle)

Defenders: Jure Balkovec (Alanyaspor), Jaka Bijol (Udinese), Miha Blazic (Lech Poznan), David Brekalo (Orlando City), Vanja Drkusic (Sochi), Erik Janza (Gornik Zabrze), Zan Karnicnik (Celje), Petar Stojanovic (Sampdoria)

Midfielders: Josip Ilicic (Maribor), Timi Maks Elsnik (Olimpija Ljubljana), Adam Gnezda-Cerin (Panathinaikos), Jon Gorenc Stankovic (Sturm Graz), Tomi Horvat (Sturm Graz), Jasmin Kurtic (Sudtirol), Sandi Lovric (Udinese), Benjamin Verbic (Panathinaikos), Adrian Zeljkovic (Spartak Trnava), Nino Zugelj (Bodo/Glimt)

Forwards: Zan Celar (Lugano), Jan Mlakar (Pisa), Benjamin Sesko (RB Leipzig), Andraz Sporar (Panathinaikos), Zan Vipotnik (Bordeaux)


Manager - Matjaz Kek

Slovenia head coach Matjaz Kek pictured on June 5, 2022© Reuters

Part of a footballing family, Matjaz Kek - whose father and son have also played professionally - performed exclusively in his homeland while donning his boots, establishing a reputation as a goalscoring centre-back who earned one cap for the Slovenia national team.

After retiring at Maribor, Kek immediately transitioned into management with his boyhood team and won a pair of Slovenian top-flight crowns before expanding his horizons, taking charge of two of Slovenia's national youth teams and earning promotion to the top job in 2007.

Slovenia were present at the 2010 World Cup thanks to Kek's efforts, but their failure to reach Euro 2012 saw the governing body pull the trigger on the 62-year-old, who subsequently won four trophies with Croatian outfit HNK Rijeka after an incredibly brief stint with Al-Ittihad.

However, Kek and the Slovenian Football Federation buried the hatchet in 2018 as the former centre-back returned to the national team helm, and having masterminded promotion to the second tier of the Nations League alongside a terrific Euro 2024 qualification campaign, the decision to re-hire the 62-year-old has certainly been justified.


Form

Slovenia's Erik Janza celebrates scoring their first goal on November 17, 2023© Reuters

Thanks in no small part to their absence from the 2022 World Cup, Slovenia's form book displays a prominent streak of green from recent friendlies, Nations League matches and - of course - their exceptional Euro 2024 qualifying bid.

From 10 preliminary continental matches, Slovenia accrued a praiseworthy 22 points and only suffered defeats to Denmark and Finland away from home to ensure a place in Germany, and their successful exploits in Group H have carried over into 2024.

Indeed, Kek's men have already taken part in four friendlies in 2024 and boast a 3-1-0 record, scraping past the United States 1-0 and shocking a full-strength Portugal unit 2-0 either side of a 2-2 draw in Malta.

Their opening friendly fixture of the summer versus Armenia did not go to plan at first, as a Mlakar goal was cancelled out by Varazdat Haroyan, but none other than the returning Ilicic struck just four minutes after coming off the bench for a nail-biting 2-1 win.

The ex-Atalanta man could not come up with any late heroics against Bulgaria in Slovenia's closing warm-up match, though, as Kek's men settled for an underwhelming 1-1 draw, albeit one that prolonged their unbeaten run to six matches.


Group and fixtures

Euro 2024 Group C

June 16: Slovenia vs. Denmark (5pm | MHPArena, Stuttgart)
June 20: Slovenia vs. Serbia (2pm | Allianz Arena, Munich)
June 25: England vs. Slovenia (8pm | RheinEnergieStadion, Cologne)


Expected XI

Oblak; Karnicnik, Brekalo, Bijol, Janza; Horvat, Gnezda Cerin, Max Elsnik, Lovric; Sesko, Ilicic


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Euro 2024 fixtures header
Friday, June 14
 
8pm
Saturday, June 15
 
2pm
 
5pm
 
8pm
Sunday, June 16
 
2pm
 
5pm
 
8pm
Monday, June 17
 
2pm
 
5pm
 
8pm
Tuesday, June 18
 
5pm
Wednesday, June 19
 
2pm
 
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8pm
Thursday, June 20
 
2pm
 
5pm
 
8pm
Group Stage
Spain
vs.
Italy
Friday, June 21
 
2pm
 
5pm
 
8pm
Saturday, June 22
 
5pm
 
8pm
Sunday, June 23
 
8pm
 
8pm
Monday, June 24
 
8pm
 
8pm
Tuesday, June 25
 
5pm
 
5pm
 
8pm
 
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Wednesday, June 26
 
5pm
 
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Saturday, June 29
Sunday, June 30
Monday, July 1
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Friday, July 5
Saturday, July 6
Tables header RHS

Group A

TeamPWDLPTS
1 Germany Germany00000
2 Hungary Hungary00000
3 Scotland flag Scotland00000
4 Switzerland Switzerland00000

Group B

TeamPWDLPTS
1 Albania national flag Albania00000
2 Croatia Croatia00000
3 Italy Italy00000
4 Spain Spain00000

Group C

TeamPWDLPTS
1 Denmark Denmark00000
2 England flag England00000
3 Serbia Serbia00000
4 Slovenia Slovenia00000

Group D

TeamPWDLPTS
1 Austria Austria00000
2 France France00000
3 Netherlands Netherlands00000
4 Poland Poland00000

Group E

TeamPWDLPTS
1 Belgium Belgium00000
2 Romania Romania00000
3 Slovakia Slovakia00000
4 Ukraine Ukraine00000

Group F

TeamPWDLPTS
1 Czech Republic Czech Republic00000
2 Georgia Georgia00000
3 Portugal Portugal00000
4 Turkey Turkey00000


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