The Crossroads of Cultures: My Initial Delve into the Slovenian Prva Liga

Introduction

  • To read the blog about the neighbouring Austrian Bundesliga, it can be found HERE.
  • To read the blog about the previous blog on the Swiss Super League, it can be found HERE.

Having looked at the major football teams and leagues in the two Alpine countries of Austria and Switzerland (as well as exploring the small principality of Liechtenstein), I wanted to expand my view into other countries who border the Alps. One of those countries I wanted to explore further is the former Yugoslav country of the Republic of Slovenia, which has Austria bordering to its north, Italy to its west, Croatia to its south and Hungary to its northeasterly border.

Slovenia is an interesting country to examine due to its unique location within Europe, situated at the meeting point of the Romance/Latin, Germanic and Slavic cultures, with each having a heavy influence on the country’s history. With the country being the first to officially secede and declare independence from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia after the Ten Day War, and the first former Yugoslav state to join the European Union, I wanted to know more about this beautiful country and its football culture. So join me as we head over the Alps once again and descend altitude towards the Adriatic Sea and explore the fascinating world of the Slovenian Prva Liga

The Slovenian Football Pyramid

The Slovenian football system is controlled and organised by the Football Association of Slovenia (Slovene: Nogometna zveza Slovenije, NZS) who are based in the village of Predoslje in the region of Upper Carniola. The Slovenian football pyramid has as many as six steps in its system:

  • Tier 1: Prva Liga
  • Tier 2: Second League
  • Tier 3: Third League (West and East)
  • Tiers 4-6: Intercommunal Leagues

The top-flight of the Slovenian pyramid is called the Slovenian Prva Liga, also known as the Slovenian First Football League, or by the abbreviation of 1. SNL (which will be described further below) and is a national league of ten teams competing within it. The second-tier league is another national league called the Slovenian Second League / 2. SNL, although it has 16 teams within the league, who play each other twice throughout the season.

The third-tier Slovenian Third League / 3. SNL is divided into two regionalised leagues, although it has been divided into four regional leagues at one point, for the 2020-21 season it is divided into the East (12 teams) and West leagues (14 teams). The winners of both of these two leagues are automatically promoted to the Second League. Below this tier are the regionalised Intercommunal Leagues which are separated into the traditional regions of the country. The clubs who play within these leagues are nominally amateur clubs, and have as many as three additional tiers of football leagues within them.

The Prva Liga

History

For the majority of the twentieth century, Slovenian clubs competed within the Yugoslav football league system, hoping to reach its top-flight of the Yugoslav First League. Only three Slovenian teams, Olimpija, Maribor and Nafta played in the top flight between the Second World War and the breakup of the SFR Yugoslavia. During the Yugoslav period, the vast majority of teams from the country played in the Slovenian Republic Football League, with the clubs competing for the title of regional champions. However this league was situated in the third-tier of the Yugoslav football pyramid, and most of its top teams were competing in either the Yugoslav First or Second Leagues.

After the independence of Slovenia in 1991, the 16 clubs that were supposed to participate in the old Slovenian Republic League were joined by the five Slovenian clubs who were competing in the higher, federal Yugoslav leagues to create the very first independent Slovenian Prva Liga season. Therefore the inaugural season in 1991-92 had 21 teams taking part, although in that first season five teams were relegated to reduce the number of teams in the Prva Liga to 18 teams for the following season. The number was further reduced to 16 teams for the following season before switching down to 10 teams for the 1995-96 season.

After three seasons, the number in the top-flight was increased to 12 teams before the format was amended yet again in the 2003-04 season to include a mid-season league split (as used in Austria, Wales, etc.). The league split format was only used for two seasons before the number of teams was reduced back down to 10 teams for the 2005-06 with no league split, and this format in the league has been used since.

Format

The location of the 2020-21 Prva Liga clubs in Slovenia

Like the majority of leagues within Europe, the Prva Liga season is organised to run from late summer to late spring. The league normally starts in mid-July and concludes its season in late May although it schedules a long winter break in the middle of the season which runs throughout the festive and New Year period, as well as the whole of January to avoid the worst of the winter weather. Very much like a number of European leagues, which have ten teams within it (like Switzerland), each team will play every other opponent four times throughout the season (twice at home and twice away) resulting in a 36-game league campaign. There is no league split within Slovenian top-flight football unlike in Austria, Wales, etc.

At the end of the 36-game season, the team with the most points are naturally crowned the Slovenian champions and qualify for the UEFA Champions League for the following season. Whilst the runners-up and the third-placed side also qualify for European competition, albeit in the Europa League (later to be the new Europa Conference League) along with the Slovenian Cup winners. Should the national cup be won by a side who have already qualified for Europe, then the fourth-placed side in the league shall also qualify for European competition. There are no end-of-season European playoffs currently.

The team who finishes bottom of the ten-team league at the end of the season is automatically relegated to the Second League, and replaced with the second-tier league’s champion. The team who finishes in ninth position then have to play a two-legged playoff against the runners-up of the 2. SNL, with the winner of the relegation/promotion playoff games (on aggregate) taking the final berth in the Prva Liga for the following season.

Current European Co-Efficient

For the 2020-21 season, Slovenia was situated in 31st position in the UEFA Coefficient Rankings, 0.625 coefficient points behind Slovakia in 30th position, and 1.500 points ahead of Liechtenstein in 32nd position. As a result of the country’s position, it means they are entitled to one qualifier to the UEFA Champions League (UCL) and three for the UEFA Europa League (UEL).

The 2019-20’s Prva Liga champions, Celje, entered the UCL in the first qualifying round, in the Champions Path section of the qualification. For the Europa League, the league’s runners-up (Maribor), the third-placed team in the league (Olimpija), and the Slovenian Cup winners (Mura) all came into the competition at the same stage – the first qualifying round of the Europa League.

League Position in Prva LigaSeason 2020-21Season 2021-22
Prva Liga WinnersUCL 1st Qualifying RoundUCL 1st Qualifying Round
Runners-UpUEL 1st Qualifying RoundUECL 1st Qualifying Round
Third PlaceUEL 1st Qualifying RoundUECL 1st Qualifying Round
Slovenian Cup Winners or Fourth PlaceUEL 1st Qualifying RoundUECL 1st Qualifying Round
Which round the Slovenian teams would enter in the 2020-21 and 2021-22 European competitions

For the 2021-22 season, Slovenia will drop a position to 32nd position in the UEFA Coefficient Rankings, in between the countries of Liechtenstein (who jumps above them in the rankings despite having just one European spot) and neighbouring Hungary. Therefore they will continue to have a single qualification spot in the UCL with the 2020-21 Prva Liga winners taking a first qualifying round spot once again.

Due to Slovenia being well outside of the top 15 leagues in the European coefficient rankings, they will not have any of their three other European qualifiers for the UEL. Instead, all of their qualifiers will take part in the new UEFA Europa Conference League (UECL), the third UEFA organised tournament which will start for the 2021-22 season. The teams who finish as runners-up and third-placed teams in the 2020-21 Prva Liga, as well as the Slovenian Cup winners, will all enter into the same round of the new competition – the first qualifying round of the UECL.

Past Winners

A list of Slovenian league champions since the very first independent Prva Liga in 1991-92:

  • 15 Titles: Maribor
  • 4 Titles: Gorica & Olimpija (defunct)
  • 2 Titles: Domžale & Olimpija Ljubljana
  • 1 Title: Koper & Celje

The most successful club in Slovenia since the country’s independence from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1991 is Maribor, who have won the Prva Liga an unprecedented fifteen times, and finished as runners-up a further seven times. They won their first seven league titles consecutively between the 1996-97 season and the 2002-03 season, before winning a further eight titles between 2009 and 2019, with their most recent Prva Liga championship coming in the 2018-19 season. They are also one of two teams (alongside Celje) who have played in every season of the Prva Liga without being relegated.

The second-most successful clubs are Gorica and the original NK Olimpija, who have four titles each to their name. NK Olimpija were the original Ljubljana side who had competed regularly in the Yugoslav First League and were considered the strongest team in Slovenia during the federal times. This was evident during the first four seasons of the Slovenian Prva Liga with the Zmaji winning the first four league campaigns, although their early domination of the league was ended with Gorica winning their first title in the 1995-96 season. The Vrtnice added to their tally in the early 2000s when they ended Maribor’s domination of the title by claiming the 2003-04 championship, before winning the next two consecutive league titles with their final one coming in the 2005-06 season. 2005 would also see the dissolution of NK Olimpija, who filed for bankruptcy during the 2004-05 season after experiencing years of financial difficulties. The successor club, originally called NK Bežigrad, but are now the new NK Olimpija, are considered a different club to the original Olimpija club but have inherited the old club’s colours, name and supporters. In addition, they have won a further two league championships by winning their first in the 2015-16 season and their most recent in the 2017-18 season.

Domžale won their two championships consecutively by claiming the 2006-07 and 2007-08 Prva Liga titles, whilst Koper won their single league title in the 2010-11 season. Celje, who have competed in every Prva Liga season, finally added their name to the winners’ row when they claimed their first championship last season to become the seventh team to win the Prva Liga since independence.

Selected Prva Liga Clubs

NK Celje

  • Stadium: Stadion Z’dežele, Celje, Styria
  • Nicknames: Grofje (English: The Counts); Rumeno-modri (English: The Yellow and Blues)
  • Colours: Blue shirts with yellow trim, yellow shorts, blue socks

Nogometni Klub Celje are based in the centrally located castle-city of Celje, which is the third-biggest city in Slovenia, and an important infrastructural hub in the country. Founded in 1919 as SK Celje, they are one of two clubs who have competed in every season of the Prva Liga since its formation in 1991. They are Slovenia’s defending champions having won their first Prva Liga title last season after having finished as runners-up twice in their history. The Grofje finished the season two points ahead of both Maribor and Olimpija, and are managed by Dušan Kosič, who as a player, has the second-highest appearances in the Prva Liga. Celje enjoys a healthy rivalry with local and title rivals Maribor, and play against them in the Štajerski / Styrian Derby.

Originally called Kladivar Celje, the side had managed to play as high as the old Yugoslav 2nd League during the time of Yugoslavia, before becoming one of the founding members of the Slovenian Prva Liga in 1991. Throughout the majority of their history in independent Slovenian football, they were known as NK Publikum Celje, and it was under that name that reached the Slovenian Cup final on nine occasions including the only time they won it once in 2005, beating Gorica 1-0 at their own stadium. They changed their name to their current one in 2007 after an organisational change, and have reached four cup finals since then, losing to Styrian rivals Maribor on three of those occasions.

The blue and yellow colours of Celje originate from the city’s coat of arms which have three yellow stars situated on a blue background, which are also represented in the club’s badge.

NK Domžale

  • Stadium: Domžale Sports Park, Domžale, Upper Carniola
  • Nicknames: Ravbarji (English: The Brigands); Rumeni (English: The Yellows); Rumena družina (English: The Yellow Family)
  • Colours: All yellow kit

Nogometni Klub Domžale are based in the town of Domžale, located north-centrally in Slovenia at the foothills of the Kamnik Alps, in the traditional region of Upper Carniola. Domžale are one of the most successful Slovenian teams in the 21st century, having won the Prva Liga twice, and in consecutive seasons in 2006-07 and 2007-08, as well as winning two Slovenian Cups in 2011 and most recently in 2017, when they beat Olimpija 1-0 at Koper. Last season they disappointed in the Prva Liga, finishing in a lowly eighth position.

Founded in 1920 as SK Disk, they were originally one of the founding members of the Prva Liga but got relegated in the inaugural season. They then spent six years competing in the 2. SNL before becoming a lower-ranked team in the top-flight. It wasn’t until the appointment of Slaviša Stojanovič as the manager in the summer of 2002 when the fortunes of Domžale changed. He got the team promoted as 2. SNL champions in his first season, before back-to-back runners-up positions in 2005 and 2006, and eventually the two championships in the following seasons afterwards. Since Stojanovič left in 2008, they finished as runners-up in the 2010-11 season but have finished in the third position within the league on five different occasions.

The blue and yellow colours of the team originate from the town’s coat of arms which have three golden cereal plants interwoven together on a blue background.

NK Maribor

  • Stadium: Stadion Ljudski Vrt, Maribor, Styria
  • Nicknames: Vijoličasti (English: The Purples); Vijolice (English: The Violets); Štajerski Ponos (English: The Pride of Styria)
  • Colours: All violet kit with white trim

Nogometni Klub Maribor are based in the northeastern city of Maribor, the second-largest city in Slovenia and capital of the traditional region of Lower Styria. The violet clad side (who’s colours were inspired by the iconic colours of Italian side Fiorentina) are the most successful Slovenian football team since the country’s independence in 1991, having won the Prva Liga a record 15 times, the Slovenian Cup 9 times and the Slovenian Supercup 4 times. They also have European pedigree as they’re also the only Slovenian side to have competed in both the group stages of the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League. Their current head coach is the former Italian-oriundi 2006 World Cup winning midfielder, Mauro Camoranesi, who took control of the club in September 2020 from Tabor Sežana.

NK Maribor were founded in 1960, and were one of only three Slovenian-based sides to participate in the Yugoslav First League, the highest division in the old Yugoslavian football pyramid, competing in the top federal league between 1967 to 1972. After Slovenia’s independence, Maribor became one of the founding members of the Prva Liga, and have never been relegated from the top flight since its foundation in 1991 (alongside Celje). They first started to dominate Slovenian football in the mid-1990s when they won their first league title in the 1996-97 season before winning the next seven consecutive seasons, and since 2009, have won a further eight league titles ensuring they are considered the strongest team in the country, and the representation of Lower Styria. Their last title championship was in the 2018-19 season, and last season they finished as runners-up to their Styrian rivals, Celje.

The club enjoys a number of rivalries with a number of teams in the league, competing in the local Štajerski / Styrian Derby against Celje, and the Prekmurje-Styria derby (also known as the Northeastern Derby / Severovzhodni Derbi) against NŠ Mura. However their biggest rivals are NK Olimpija Ljubljana in what is called the Eternal Derby / Večni Derbi, and is the biggest rivalry in Slovenian football, with the teams coming from the country’s two biggest cities, and having history in the Yugoslav leagues. Both sides have substantial ultra groups (with Maribor’s group being the ‘Viole Maribor’) which can create an unique and intense atmosphere in such games, although violent clashes can sometimes occur between the rival ultra groups.

NŠ Mura

  • Stadium: Fazanerija City Stadium, Murska Sobota, Prekmurje
  • Nicknames: Muraši; Čarno-bejli (English: The Black and Whites)
  • Colours: Black and white vertical striped shirts, black shorts, black socks

Nogometna šola Mura are based in the town of Murska Sobota, located in the far north-east of the country near the River Mura in the traditional region of Prekmurje, with the town being the regional capital. They are managed by former Mura 05 and Maribor manager Ante Šimundža, who has been in charge of the club since 2017. The Black & Whites enjoy a rivalry with fellow Prva Liga side Maribor in the Prekmurje-Styria derby (also known as the Northeastern Derby / Severovzhodni Derbi), whilst they enjoy a more local derby against NK Nafta 1903 in the Prekmurje Derby, who currently play in the 2. SNL and originate from Lendava, a town on the Slovene-Hungarian border.

They were founded in 2012 from the ashes of ND Mura 05 who dissolved after financial difficulties, who themselves only originated in 2005 after the same issue happened to previous club NK Mura. NK Mura were founded in 1924 as one of the first clubs in the Prekmurje region, and would become a founding member of the Prva Liga, finishing as high as second position in both the 1993-94 season and 1997-98 season, and playing in European competitions before folding in 2005. Since being resurrected in 2012, the club went on a rapid rise through the Slovenian football pyramid, gaining promotion to the third-tier in 2014, the 2. SNL in 2017 and then getting promoted as champions the following season to return to the top-flight. In their two seasons back in the top-flight, including last season, they have finished in fourth position in the league. Mura also managed to win the Slovenian Cup last season, beating local rivals Nafta 1903 in the final by a 2-0 scoreline, with goals coming from Amadej Maroša and Žan Karničnik.

The black and white stiped shirts have been used by all three versions of the Mura club.

NK Olimpija Ljubljana

  • Stadium: Stožice Stadium, Ljubljana
  • Nicknames: Zmaji (English: The Dragons); Zeleno-beli (English: The Green and Whites)
  • Colours: Green shirts with white trim, white shorts, green socks

Nogometni Klub Olimpija Ljubljana are based in the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana and have former Portsmouth, Sheffield Wednesday and Leicester City owner Milan Mandarić as President and owner of the club. As aforementioned, this club was founded in 2005 as NK Bežigrad and started in the fifth-tier before achieving a rapid ascension up the Slovenian pyramid to reach the top-flight in 2009. They changed their name to NK Olimpija Bežigrad in 2007 before adopting their current name in 2008. Although they are not regarded as a direct continuation of the former NK Olimpija side who won four Prva Ligas before folding in 2005, a large number of their supporters and ultra fans (including the largest ultra group the ‘Green Dragons’) have moved their support to this new iteration, and the club plays in the same green and white colours as the previous Olimpija club.

They have competed in the Prva Liga since the 2009-10 season, finishing runners-up on three occasions and winning the league twice. NK Olimpija won their first league title in the 2015-16 season, finishing six points clear of Maribor in second place, before winning their second title in the 2017-18 season in the closest possible manner. They had tied on 80 points with Maribor at the end of the season, and had a worse goal difference and goal scored tally than their eternal rivals, but their head-to-head away goals of three compared to Maribor’s one goal meant they just claimed the title. However they had been top of the table for the vast majority of that season and so deserved the title ultimately. It was also during that season that they won the Slovenian Cup ensuring they achieved a double-winning season. Last season, the Zmaji finished in third position, just two points behind the champions Celje, and missed out on second place on head-to-head goal difference against Maribor.

In keeping with the previous Olimpija club, their main and heated rivalry is with Maribor, whom they compete against in the Eternal Derby / Večni Derbi. It is the biggest rivalry in Slovenian football, with the teams representing the country’s two biggest cities and the rivalry between them. In addition, they also enjoy rivalries with other clubs based in the capital, with them playing a Ljubljana Derby against NK Bravo in the Prva Liga last season, and is scheduled to continue the rivalry for this season.

FC Koper

  • Stadium: Bonifika Stadium, Koper, Slovene Littoral
  • Nickname: Kanarčki (English: The Canaries)
  • Colours: Yellow shirts with blue trim, blue shorts, blue socks with yellow tops

Football Club Koper are based in the port city of Koper (Italian: Capodistria), the fifth-largest city in Slovenia, located on Slovenia’s narrow Adriatic coast in the south-west of the country on the northern side of the Istrian peninsula. They are one of the more successful teams in the country having won the Prva Liga in the 2009-10 season, as well as winning the Slovenian Cup on three occasions and the Supercup twice. Naturally the club enjoys local rivalries with fellow coastal teams such as Izola, although their main rivals are Gorica, who they play in the Littoral Derby. Koper’s current manager, Miran Srebrnič, is a Gorica legend having played 400 times for the club and managed them on five occasions. The yellow and blue colours of the team originate from the city’s flag which is a yellow sun displayed on a blue background.

The club’s foundations originate back to 1920 when the city was part of the Kingdom of Italy, with the club being created as Circolo Sportivo Capodistria. However the club adopted the name of NK Koper when two local sides, Aurora and Meduza, merged together to create a bigger club for the city. They won the Slovenian Republic League twice in the 1980s and became a founding member of the Prva Liga in 1991. However the club has repeatedly struggled with financial problems, which has seen the club relegated to the 2. SNL on numerous occasions, and forced them to change their name to their current one to avoid paying its debts. The fans eventually took control of the club to avoid it going bankrupt like other Slovenian clubs, although in the 2005-06 season, Milan Mandarić was brought in as owner after his stint with Portsmouth had finished, and he cleared the club’s debts before he moved onto Leicester City. This started a golden period for the club, which saw them win the trophies that were aforementioned.

After 17 continuous seasons in the top-flight, they failed to obtain a professional licence for the 2017-18 season which automatically relegated the club to the Littoral League and the fourth-tier. However since their enforced demotion, Koper has rapidly risen through the leagues winning the Littoral League, the 3. SNL title and last season’s 2. SNL title, in the last three seasons, to regain their place in the top-flight once again for the 2020-21 season.

ND Gorica

  • Stadium: Nova Gorica Sports Park, Nova Gorica, Slovene Littoral
  • Nicknames: Vrtnice (English: The Roses); Plavo-beli (English: The Blue and Whites)
  • Colours: Sky blue and white vertical striped shirt, sky blue shorts, sky blue socks

Nogometno Društvo Gorica are based in the border town of Nova Gorica, situated right on Slovenia’s border with Italy and positioned just north-east from the Italian town of Gorizia, with both locations being in the same locality until the Italian-Yugoslav border was settled in 1947 and divided the two locations. The Roses (their rose logo originating from the town’s coat of arms) are one of Slovenian football’s most successful sides having won the Prva Liga on four occasions (and three in a row between 2004 and 2006), the Slovenian Cup three times and the Supercup once. As aforementioned, their main rivals are FC Koper, who they play in the Littoral Derby, and Gorica’s current manager is the former Dundee United, Rangers, Crystal Palace and Hearts defender Gordan Petrić.

Although there are records of football being played in the region from the 1900s, this current club was founded in October 1947 as FD Gorica. Under their next name of Železničar Nova Gorica, they managed to play as high as the Yugoslav Second League, although the majority of their career during the federal days was that of a mid-table club. Gorica would become founding members of the Prva Liga in 1991, and would be the team to halt the original NK Olimpija’s dominance of the league when they won their first league title in 1995-96. They would also become the team to stop Maribor’s first run of league titles when they claimed the 2003-04 title from Maribor on the final day of the season, beating local rivals Koper to claim the league. This was then followed up with another two consecutive titles to raise their league total to four championships. Their most recent main trophy was winning the Slovenian Cup in 2014 after they beat Maribor at Koper’s stadium.

After 28 seasons in the top-flight, they finally suffered relegation to the 2. SNL in the 2018-19 season when they lost in the relegation/promotion playoffs against Tabor Sežana 1-2 on aggregate. However their exile away from the Prva Liga would last just a single season, as their second-place finish in the 2019-20 Second League table ensured they would compete in the relegation/promotion playoffs once again. This time facing ninth-placed side NK Triglav Kranj, they achieved a 1-1 at Nova Gorica before hammering their opponents 5-0 at Kranj to secure promotion on the back of a 6-1 aggregate victory.

Other Slovenian Clubs

MNK Izola

The team I have selected to follow in Slovenian football is MNK Izola, a team who currently play in the third-tier 3. SNL West division. I have chosen to follow the Ribiči as it is another situation where I ended up managing them on a Football Manager save, and so have formed an attachment to them haha. They are located in the middle of Slovenia’s thin Adriatic coastline in the old historical fishing town of Izola (Italian: Isola) which is positioned on the northern side of the Istria peninsula. The club plays in the 5,085 capacity Izola City Stadium (Slovene: Mestni stadion Izola) and finished in 11th position in the 3. SNL West last season, although the season was eventually cancelled due to the COVID pandemic after fourteen league games were played.

Mladinski Nogometni Klub Izola or MNK Izola were founded in 1996 and originate from the ashes of previous side NK Izola, who were founded in 1923 as Club Calcistico Giovanile Isola d’Istria, when the city of Isola was part of the Kingdom of Italy. They were one of the founding members of the Prva Liga, finishing in the third position in the very first season, and played in the top-flight for five seasons before eventually folding at the end of the 1995-96 season due to financial troubles. Sadly the history of MNK hasn’t been as illustrious as its predecessor with the club spending the vast majority of its history battling in the third-tier of Slovenian football. They did have a brief spell in the 2. SNL when they won the 2001-02 3. SNL West title, and played there for three seasons but returned back to the 3. SNL in 2005-06, where they have competed since. Izola’s best finish since their return to the third-tier has been finishing runners-up in the 2014-15 season, finishing 3 points behind eventual league champions ND Primorje.

MNK Izola enjoy a healthy rivalry with nearby seaside city Koper, whilst their traditional rivals were fellow Istrian side NK Jadran Poreč, who compete within the Croatian football system.

The 2019-20 Season

League Table

The 2019-20 Slovenian Prva Liga (IMAGE: Wikipedia]

The 29th edition of the Prva liga Telekom Slovenije (to give the league its sponsored name) began on 13th July 2019 but didn’t finish until 22nd July 2020 due to the halt in the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The season was halted on 12th March before restarting again on 15th June. At the end of the 36 game season, Celje would be crowned as Slovenian champions for the very first time, clinching the title by just two points ahead of defending champions Maribor and Olimpija. The 2-2 draw on the final day of the season against former league leaders Olimpija was enough to snatch the title in what was a “winner takes all” match. Olimpija suffered a catastrophic collapse to their season by only earning just two points from their last four games, to allow Celje to eventually overtake them and claim their first national title.

Mitra Lotrič

Celje would be helped to the title by the 23 goals and 12 assists of Croatian Dario Vizinger (the second-highest goalscorer and season’s top assister) and the 18 goals and 11 assists from Slovenian attacking midfielder Mitja Lotrič (the third-highest goalscorer and second-best assister). Both players would also win individual awards in the end-of-season awards with Lotrič winning the Prva Liga Player of the Season, whilst Vizinger would the under 23 equivalent. Alas both players would not be returning to the club for the 2020-21 season with Lotrič joining German 2. Bundesliga side Würzburger Kickers whilst Vizinger joined Austrian Bundesliga club Wolfsberger AC.

Ante Vukušić

Maribor finished just ahead of rivals Olimpija to claim second position despite having scored fewer goals and having a worse overall goal difference, but crucially had a better head-to-head goal difference with Maribor having +1 and Olimpija with -1. The capital based club were the second-highest scorers in the league with 73 goals, with 26 of them coming from forward Ante Vukušić. The Croatian finished as the league’s top goalscorer scoring his 26 goals in 32 league games. Both of them would qualify for the Europa League alongside fourth-placed Mura, who finished 11 points behind the eternal rivals although qualified for European competition by winning their first national cup, beating local rivals Nafta 1903 2-0 in the final. Completing the top half of the table was NK Aluminij of the Styrian town of Kidričevo, who finished in their highest ever league position of fifth place and just a point behind Mura on 55 points.

At the bottom of the table Rudar Velenje encountered a miserable season which saw the Knapi endure a winless season and just earned themselves 12 draws throughout the season to finish 31 points from safety and end their 11-season stay in the top-flight. They would be replaced by the 2. SNL champions FC Koper, who gained automatic promotion after finishing three points clear at the top of the table. Finishing ninth in the table and facing the relegation/promotion playoff was Triglav Kranj, who ended the season with the league’s worst defence (conceding 87 goals) and finished 11 points behind eighth-placed Domžale. They would face the 2. SNL runners-up Gorica in the two-legged playoff, and despite achieving an impressive 1-1 draw at Nova Gorica, a 0-5 defeat in Kranj would send them back to the second-tier after three seasons in the Prva Liga, and ensured Gorica’s rapid return to the top-flight after a season’s hiatus.

European Results

Rok Kronaveter

The 2018-19 Prva Liga champions, Maribor, started their UEFA Champions League (UCL) campaign in the first qualifying round against Icelandic champions, Valur. A 3-0 victory in Iceland with goals coming from Špiro Peričić, Dino Hotić and Rok Kronaveter gave the Slovenian champions a secure first leg lead, which was then followed up by a 2-0 win in Maribor to provide a 5-0 aggregate win against their Icelandic equivalents. Next up was a tough tie against the 2018 Swedish champions AIK albeit with the first leg being at the Ljudski vrt this time around. Maribor continued their solid performances at home by achieving a 2-1 victory with goals coming from veteran Kronaveter (scoring his third UCL goal in three games) and Saša Ivković, although in the second leg they found themselves 1-2 down after 90 minutes in Sweden with Andrej Kotnik getting the visitors only goal. With the tie level, it meant extra-time had to be played and it looked as if AIK would snatch the tie when they scored in the third minute of extra-time, however with only three minutes remaining of the additional time to be played, Romanian midfielder Alexandru Crețu found the crucial goal that enabled Maribor to progress to the next round, winning on away goals after the aggregate score finished as 4-4.

Marcos Tavares

In the third qualifying round, Maribor came up against 2018 Norwegian Eliteserien champions, Rosenborg, and again they started their first leg at home. Unfortunately they suffered a terrible 1-3 defeat in Maribor with Marcos Tavares scoring the only consolation goal in the tie, and sadly the Slovenian champions would suffer the same fate in the return leg. Despite taking the lead through Rudi Požeg Vancaš before half-time, three second-half goals were conceded to confirm Maribor’s exit from the UCL with a 2-6 aggregate defeat. Nonetheless they were given an opportunity to qualify for the UEFA Europa League (UEL) group stage should they defeat the Bulgarian champions, Ludogorets Razgrad in the UEL playoff round. A goalless draw in Razgrad meant that a home win would confirm Maribor’s place in the UEL group stage once again. Unfortunately a poor first half performance found themselves 0-2 down at the break, but goals from Tavares and Vancaš brought it back to 2-2 with nearly 20 minutes remaining. Regrettably for the Violets, they were unable to find that crucial third goal that would have seen progression, and they exited European competition on away goals after drawing 2-2 on aggregate.

Stefan Savić

Maribor would get the furthest in the UEL with the other Slovenian clubs having made earlier exits from the competition. Mura fell at the opening hurdle in the first qualifying round, losing to Israeli side Maccabi Haifa 2-5 on aggregate. A 0-2 defeat in Haifa was followed up with a 2-3 defeat at the Fazanerija, with Luka Bobičanec and Jon Šporn getting the consolation goals for the Black & Whites. Olimpija would also struggle after their first leg, losing 2-3 to Latvian side RFS in Ljubljana. A wild final ten minutes of the match would see four goals scored with Eric Boakye and Luka Menalo seemingly to have found equalisers in the match before the Zmaji conceded an injury time losing goal. Despite the setback, a big win in Riga ensured they progressed to the second qualifying round. Winger Endri Çekiçi scored just before the half-time break to level the aggregate scoreline, but with Riga in pole position on away goals. Cue a Stefan Savić 92nd minute winner to ensure Olimpija progressed by the tightest of margins. They would be joined in the next round with Domžale who fought back from 1-2 down and 2-3 down to win their away leg 4-3 against Balzan of Malta. Goals from Senijad Ibričić, Slobodan Vuk, Gregor Sikošek and Matej Podlogar ensured the Rumeni enjoyed a first leg lead. In a nervy second leg, only a Vuk goal after 20 minutes decided the match to ensure Domžale progressed with a 5-3 victory.

Adam Gnezda Cerin

Domžale’s reward for progression to the second qualifying round was a tie against Swedish giants Malmö FF. In the first leg held at Domžale, they held their own against the Himmelsblått by drawing 2-2 in front of over 2,000 supporters. Jamaican forward Shamar Nicholson and midfielder Adam Gnezda Čerin found the goals for the home side. In the second leg in Sweden, the encounter was close again with both sides having scored twice in the first half to level the tie at 4-4 on aggregate. Just when it seemed extra time could potentially be on the cards, Malmö scored with seven minutes remaining to win the tie 3-2 and progress 5-4 on aggregate – an unlucky performance from the Rumeni. In the same round, Olimpija would have to travel to Eastern Anatolia for their first leg match against Turkish side, Yeni Malatyaspor. The capital-based club came away from Malatya with a superb 2-2 draw, with Ante Vukušić and Stefan Savić scoring important away goals to take back to Ljubljana, and a great chance of progression. Alas they were unable to keep a clean sheet against the Süper Lig side, conceding the only goal of the game with thirteen minutes remaining to disappointingly lose 0-1 at home, and exit the competition 2-3 on aggregate.

[All results are on aggregate]

Maribor

  • UEFA Champs League 1QR: Valur (ISL) 5 – 0
  • UEFA Champs League 2QR: AIK (SWE) 4 – 4 (won on away goals)
  • UEFA Champs League 3QR: Rosenborg (NOR) 2 – 6
  • UEFA Europa League P/OR: Ludogorets Razgrad (BUL) 2 – 2 (lost on away goals)

Mura

  • UEFA Europa League 1QR: Maccabi Haifa (ISR) 2 – 5

Olimpija Ljubljana

  • UEFA Europa League 1QR: RFS (LAT) 4 – 3
  • UEFA Europa League 2QR: Yeni Malatyaspor (TUR) 2 – 3

NK Domžale

UEFA Europa League 1QR: Balzan (MLT) 5 – 3
UEFA Europa League 2QR: Malmö FF (SWE) 4 – 5

The 2020-21 Season

League Table

The 2020-21 Prva Liga at the time of writing (25th Oct 2020) [IMAGE: Soccerway]

As of the time of writing (25th October 2020), there is a surprise league leader in the 2020-21 Prva Liga with last season’s seventh-placed team Tabor Sežana leading the table after winning five of their first eight games. They are just a point ahead of defending cup holders Mura in second position, with Maribor and Olimpija just behind them in third and fourth spots respectively. The defending champions Celje have had a strugglesome start to the season, only winning two of their first eight games to find themselves in eighth position with just nine points. On the bottom of the table is newly-promoted Gorica, who have already found themselves adrift at the bottom of the table with just five points. Having only achieved one win so far this season (a 2-0 win over ninth-placed Aluminij), they could have a potentially tough season ahead.

Leading the goalscoring charts after eight games played is FC Koper’s Bosnian forward Nardin Mulahusejnović, who has scored five goals so far this season and half of his team’s total tally. Just behind him with four goals each are Olimpija’s Serbian forward Đorđe Ivanović and Maribor’s veteran striker Rok Kronaveter, who is also the highest scoring Slovenian in the league this season.

European Results

Dario Vizinger

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ultimate disruption upon the 2019-20 season, the games for the qualifying rounds of both the UEFA Champions League (UCL) and UEFA Europa League (UEL) were restricted to just one-legged games to restrict movement (and potential spreading of the virus) throughout the continent, and quicken up the start of the 2020-21 European season. Champions Celje started their campaign in the UCL first qualifying round against Irish champions (and eventual UEL group stage competitors) Dundalk. Playing in Hungary due to COVID-19 restrictions in travel between the two countries, goals from forward Luka Kerin, Dario Vizinger and Filip Dangubić gave them a flattering 3-0 victory against the Lilywhites. In the next round, they came up against Norwegian champions Molde, this time playing at the Stadion Z’dežele. The home side took a half-time 1-0 lead through a Mitja Lotrič strike, but conceded two goals in the second half to lose the tie 1-2, and drop into the UEL. In the third qualifying round of the UEL, they took on Armenian champions Ararat-Armenia in Yerevan. A tough fixture to play and so it proved as the game ended goalless after 90 minutes, but a goal in the 111th minute from the Armenians was enough to see them progress and end Celje’s European campaign.

Matic Fink

Maribor suffered a shock defeat at home against Northern Irish side Coleraine in the first qualifying round of the UEL. The two sides drew 1-1 after 120 minutes of play, resulting in penalties deciding the two sides. Sadly for the Violets, only Rudi Požeg Vancaš missed his penalty from the shootout resulting in Maribor making a rapid exit from Europe, losing 4-5 on penalties. Olimpija needed extra-time also to defeat Icelandic side Víkingur in Ljubljana, scoring an 88th minute equaliser from right-back Matic Fink to send the game into extra time before Radivoj Bosić scored the decisive winner in the 106th minute for the Zmaji. Whereas Mura had a much easier time of it against Estonian side Nõmme Kalju, scoring first-half goals from Žiga Kous, Alen Kozar and a brace from Kevin Žižek to give them a comfortable 4-0 victory.

Kevin Žižek

In the UEL second qualifying round, Olimpija had a Balkan derby of sorts against Bosnian side Zrinjski Mostar at home. Đorđe Ivanović gave the capital side a first-half lead but were pegged back early in the second-half. Andrés Vombergar looked to have scored a late winner in the 82nd minute for Olimpija, but Zrinjski equalised once again three minutes later to send the game into extra time. Sadly a goal conceded three minutes into the additional time was enough for Mostar to progress and end Olimpija’s journey in Europe. Again Mura made no problem of their respective UEL clash against Danish side AGF. Goals from Jan Gorenc, Žižek and Amadej Maroša ensured the home side achieved a 3-0 victory and progressed to the third qualifying round, where they came up against the European powerhouse of PSV Eindhoven. Mura conceded after 17 minutes but defensive midfielder Nino Kouter levelled things up for the Black & Whites, but sadly that was the only highlight from the match as Mura conceded a further four unanswered goals against die Boeren to exit the competition with a 1-5 defeat to the Dutch side.

[All single legged games]

NK Celje

  • UEFA Champs League 1QR: Dundalk (IRL) 3 – 0
  • UEFA Champs League 2QR: Molde (NOR) 1 – 2
  • UEFA Europa League 3QR: Ararat-Armenia (ARM) 0 – 1

Maribor

  • UEFA Europa League 1QR: Coleraine (NIR) 1 – 1 [4 – 5 on pens]

Olimpija

  • UEFA Europa League 1QR: Víkingur Reykjavík (ISL) 2 – 1
  • UEFA Europa League 2QR: Zrinjski Mostar (BIH) 2 – 3

Mura

  • UEFA Europa League 1QR: Nõmme Kalju (EST) 4 – 0
  • UEFA Europa League 2QR: AGF (DEN) 3 – 0
  • UEFA Europa League 3QR: PSV Eindhoven (NED) 1 – 5

Sources of Information

NZS Links

Below are the links to the Slovenian FA’s website and social media pages, should you wish to know more about football in Slovenia. Please be aware that the sites or posts are in the Slovenian language:

Prva Liga Links

Below are the links to the Prva Liga’s official website and social media pages, should you wish to know more about the top-flight league in Slovenia. Please be aware that the sites or posts are in the Slovenian language:

So that completes my initial delve into the Slovenian Prva Liga. I have really enjoyed learning about Slovenian football and its league teams, and will be keeping an eye on the leagues throughout the season. Also I hope that Izola manages to win the 3. SNL West title this season and earn promotion to the 2. SNL, although I am not that confident considering their past history! I hope you have also learnt something from my blog and have enjoyed reading about the Slovenian Prva Liga and its teams.

If you have any questions, opinions or feedback on this blog, please contact me through the comments box below, or via Twitter @The94thMin. I would be eager to hear your thoughts, and also if you follow, or are going to follow, any Slovenian teams and the reason for it! In addition, if you have any country you would like me to focus on in the future, please let me know. I would love to hear from you!

Hvala!

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