Soccer-Slovenia shake off jitters ahead of Serbia showdown


FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Euro 2024 - Group C - Slovenia v Denmark - Stuttgart Arena, Stuttgart, Germany - June 16, 2024 Slovenia players pose for a team group photo before the match REUTERS/Leonhard Simon/File Photo

MUNICH, Germany (Reuters) - Slovenia are brimming with confidence ahead of their Euro 2024 match against Serbia on Thursday after snatching a point in their opener while the mood in their opponent's camp is more downbeat due to injury worries and an unhappy captain.

Participating in their second European Championship 24 years after their debut appearance at the tournament, Slovenia know a win will put them in good position to emerge from Group C that also contains England and Denmark.

"The second match will definitely be easier. This point gave us additional confidence," midfielder Timi Elsnik told Slovenian news outlet Dnevnik. "We know what a win against Serbia brings."

Slovenia were initially overwhelmed by playing on the big stage in the 1-1 draw against Denmark in their tournament opener on Sunday, falling behind during a one-sided first half before battling back to level late.

Manager Matjaz Kek will likely field a team similar to the opener that featured little in the way of experience apart from captain and goalkeeper Jan Oblak, who is playing in his first major tournament.

But several promising youngsters will be looking to make their mark, including 20-year-old forward Benjamin Sesko who scored five goals in the qualifying campaign and thundered a shot off the woodwork against Denmark.

The mood at the Serbian camp is markedly different following a 1-0 defeat against England that left manager Dragan Stojkovic's side bottom of the group.

Despite a feisty performance against the group favourites, news that midfielder Filip Kostic likely sustained a ligament injury in his left knee dampened any Serbian post-match optimism.

The 31-year-old Juventus player walked off the pitch crying and was substituted by Filip Mladenovic following a challenge late in the opening period.

Serbia will nevertheless look to repeat their second-half display against England when they ratcheted up the pressure and brought on more attacking players in search of an equalizer.

Juventus striker Dusan Vlahovic will also test Slovenia's back line but an area of concern is the reported dissatisfaction of captain Dusan Tadic who criticized the team selection after Stojkovic left him on the bench and did not introduce him until after an hour.

Stojkovic explained that bringing Tadic on later in the match was a tactical decision and he ruled out any bad feelings in the Serbian locker room.

"I am the one who decides," he was quoted as saying in Dnevnik. "There is no room for controversy but there is no friction around the captain."

(Reporting by Michael Kahn; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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