Ljubljana Fans Friendly: Slovenia Vs England
There were a few sore heads when England met at 9:30am at the Central City Hotel in Ljubljana en-route to the fans friendly with Slovenia. The team were greeted by a Slovenian guide, Marusha, who took us on a specially chartered bus to the stadium for the match. The game was held to the North of the City on a ground that was part of the Slovenian FA’s (NZS) training facilities
England went into the game with a strong squad of 17 players and faced up against a scratch team of Slovenians who had not played together before. The NZS had selected the players from the Slovenian supporters associations Facebook page following a campaign to promote the game in a national daily sports magazine.
England Team from Top Left: Dave Beverly (referee), Dave Clarke, Barrie Tullis, Dane Cloke (Captain), Ben Knapper, Gary Shanahan, Graham Taylor, Paul Newstead, Des Ireland, Simon Price, Phil McLaughlin, Ed Rhodes (Gaffer), James Clarke, Alex Moore, Will Flack, Rupert Maher, Tim Hort, George Flack, Jim Gay (FA)
After a heavy defeat in Dublin, England headed into the game with a few more of their regulars in the side, including Graham Taylor who was able to reform his strong centre-back partnership with Captain Dane Cloke. With a combined age of 100 it may be fair to say that Dane and Graham aren’t the quickest defenders in the world, but they certainly make up for that with their experience, especially the way they read the game. Overall though there was a more youthful look to the squad, with several of the younger players who made their debut in Turin coming back into the team after missing the Dublin friendly. Dave Clarke, Phil McLaughlin, Will Flack and Rupert Maher all filled the wide positions around the spine of the team made up from regulars.
Despite the early kick-off time of 11am, the temperature on pitch-side was in the high 20’s and that was reflected in the initial exchanges as the game opened at a fairly leisurely pace. The Slovenians had the majority of possession in the first 20 minutes but weren’t able to pose a serious threat to England’s goalkeeper Des Ireland. England looked best when they got the ball out wide and had a limited amount of joy down the right hand side with some neat combinations between Will Flack and Rupert Maher. The problem for England was getting decent quality balls up to the attackers – several times balls were worked up to either Paul Newstead or Alex Moore in attack but the midfield struggled to get up to support. Whether it was the heat, the hangovers, or the size of the pitch (which was much bigger than what most of us were playing on) England were struggling to move up and down as a unit and found themselves surrendering possession to Slovenia. By the end of the first half Slovenia must have had well over 65% possession and on the 40 minute mark they were able to make this statistic count. The Slovenian number 18 pounced on a loose ball just inside the area, swivelled on the spot and dispatched a precision half volley into the England net giving the home team a 1-0 lead going into the break.
At half time both teams were addressed by the Deputy Head of Mission at the British Embassy in Slovenia, Mr Jamie Hilton who gave a short speech to thank our hosts and demonstrate the support of the Embassy for initiatives such as the fans friendly events which bring fans together through football.
The second half was a little more open than the first and saw chances at both ends. Slovenia wasted a great opportunity to extend their lead when their number 9 was put through on goal only to slide his shot wide past the advancing Des Ireland. Goalkeeper Des was kept on his toes throughout the game and was pivotal in keeping the scoreline at 1-0. England manager Ed Rhodes rang the changes in the second half as the heat took its toll. It was two of the substitutes who carved out England’s best chance of the second half, with Simon Price latching on to Gary Shanahan’s cross, only to steer the ball wide of the post.
The game became more open as the second half went on. Barrie Tullis who had set his sights with a couple of long range shots in the first half saw a left foot shot from outside the box fizz over the bar. But it was Slovenia who finished the game the strongest, being able to overrun the English midfield despite the industry of Tim Hort and Alex Moore who must have covered more ground than anyone else on the pitch. After several close chances the hosts eventually made their superiority count when their number 10 stabbed home from 3 yards out following a goal mouth scramble.
At the final whistle the English players presented some gifts (courtesy of the FA) to the Slovenian players and were then treated to a traditional Slovenian lunch at a nearby restaurant. A huge thank you goes out to Nejc Fistrovic, who made the game possible. Not only did Nejc ensure everything ran like clockwork on the day he also starred in the winning Slovenian team – playing in goal for the first half and then coming on to centre-midfield in the second half!
If you would like to be involved in future fans friendly matches please email firstname.lastname@example.org with your full name, England Supporters Club number, age and preferred playing position. A full set of pictures from the game is available here: https://flic.kr/s/aHskaEkoLm