World Cup: Slovenia sends U.S. a message: It won't be a pushover
While the U.S. soccer team focuses its energy on its World Cup opener June 12 against England, its second opponent served notice Saturday that it won't be easily intimidated or easily beaten.
In particular, striker Milivoje Novakovic showed why the American players will have to be on their toes and won't want to yield free kicks in dangerous positions.
Novakovic scored twice on free kicks Saturday as Slovenia beat New Zealand, 3-1, in Maribor, Slovenia, in the team's final tuneup before it flies to South Africa on Sunday. The goals brought his total to 16 in 38 games for the national team.
"It was a good performance, and I was especially pleased for Novakovic," Slovenia Coach Matjaz Kek said. "But it was only a friendly, and World Cup games are going to be a different story."
Slovenia opens against Algeria on June 13 and plays the U.S. in Johannesburg on June 18.
The Slovenians played an attacking brand of soccer, something Kek has promised would be his team's trademark at the World Cup.
"As far as I am concerned, we can lose all three group matches as long as we play entertaining football to please the crowds and get them on their feet," Kek told Ekipa, a Slovenian website. "We don't want to win the sympathy of neutral fans as underdogs, we want to win their hearts by playing an attractive game and presenting ourselves in the best possible way.
"The most difficult thing in football is to play with an eye-catching style and win games, but that's what we will try to do because playing a destructive game with 10 men behind the ball is not my philosophy."
All of which means the game against the U.S. could be one of the most interesting in the 64-game tournament, especially if the U.S. loses its opener to England and Slovenia wins its opener against Algeria.
-- Grahame L. Jones, reporting from Johannesburg