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Slovenia exit Euro 2024 with high hopes for the future

Slovenia exit Euro 2024 with high hopes for the future

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Slovenia exit Euro 2024 with high hopes for the future

Slovenia head home from Euro 2024 without winning a match but confident a series of determined performances with a core of young players should lead to regular returns to major tournaments.

Playing in their first one since the 2010 World Cup and their first Euros since 2000, nerves took over in the opening match against Denmark who were in complete control until Slovenia grabbed a late equaliser.

Once the players found their footing, however, Slovenia showed they belonged at the tournament despite losing a last-16 penalty shootout against Portugal on Monday.

“Many of my players have never played such a big competition,” Slovenia manager Matjaz Kek said after the Group C 1-1 draw against Denmark. “When we saw something was possible today, they started playing.

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“I think we will learn from this. When this team plays their second or third big tournament, they will be much stronger from the outset.”

Slovenia qualified for the knockout rounds of a major tournament for the first time as one of the best third-placed finishers after drawing all three group matches.

Facing a Portugal side led by Cristiano Ronaldo in the round of 16 was never going to be an easy task but Slovenia defended superbly and created enough chances to sneak a victory in a match that finished 0-0 before going to penalties.

Slovenia, 51 places below Portugal in the world rankings, ran out of steam in the shootout and Portugal goalkeeper Diego Costa saved three spot-kicks.

“It was a good evening for Slovenian football,” said Slovenia midfielder Adam Gnezda Cerin. “We’ve seen a competitive Slovenia who had a chance to eliminate Portugal with that great chance in the 115th minute. Unfortunately, we didn’t succeed, but regardless I am so proud of this team.

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“I think we will be back at a major tournament before long and we will be able to live such moments again. We’ve done a good job, not only for ourselves but for all of Slovenian sport. This team is something special and we’ll be back.”

Kek, 62, led a team with little in the way of experience, apart from captain and goalkeeper Jan Oblak but full of exciting prospects including 20-year-old Benjamin Sesko who had a one-on-one opportunity saved minutes from the end of the Portugal loss.

Participation in Germany marked only the fourth major international tournament for the former Yugoslav republic, who have been playing as an independent entity since 1992.

Yet players like Sesko, who recently extended his contract at Bundesliga club RB Leipzig amid reported interest from Premier League clubs Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea, promise good times ahead.
“Our youth bodes well for the future of Slovenian football,” Kek said 

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Rakitic joins Hajduk Split after leaving Al-Shabab

Rakitic joins Hajduk Split after leaving Al-Shabab

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Rakitic joins Hajduk Split after leaving Al-Shabab

Former Croatia midfielder Ivan Rakitic is joining Hajduk Split after Saudi Pro League club Al-Shabab terminated his contract by mutual consent following a six-month spell.

The 36-year-old scored once in eight games after joining Al-Shabab in January 2024 as they finished eighth on 52 points.

“The club management agreed with the Croatian player Ivan Rakitic to terminate the contractual relationship between the two parties by mutual consent,” the Saudi club posted on the X social media platform.

Hajduk Split on Sunday announced the signing of the former Barcelona and Sevilla midfielder for one season with the option of an extra year in what will be his first campaign in Croatia.

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Rakitic, who was born in Switzerland, played 106 games for Croatia, scoring 15 goals, and helped the country reach the World Cup final in 2018. 

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Croatia’s Vida retires from international football

Croatia’s Vida retires from international football

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Croatia's Vida retires from international football

Croatia defender Domagoj Vida has retired from international soccer after 14 years in the national team, the Croatian Football Federation said on Sunday.

Vida, 35, made his international debut in May 2010 and has played 105 matches for Croatia. He was part of the Croatia side that reached the final of World Cup 2018 and finished third in World Cup 2022.

“It is an honour to wear the most beautiful jersey in the world once in your career,” Vida said in a statement.

“And when you do it 105 times, you play in seven major competitions … then you can just be infinitely grateful for such a privilege.”

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Former Bayer Leverkusen and Besiktas player Vida currently plays for Greek top-flight club AEK Athens. 

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Canada defender Collins to miss Paris 2024 soccer tournament through injury

Canada defender Collins to miss Paris 2024 soccer tournament through injury

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Canada defender Collins to miss Paris 2024 soccer tournament through injury

Canada defender Sydney Collins will miss the Paris 2024 women’s soccer tournament after fracturing her left leg during a training game in her first match back after suffering a similar injury to her right leg earlier this year, Team Canada said on Saturday.

Gabrielle Carle will replace Collins in Canada’s Olympic squad, while Desiree Scott will take Carle’s spot as an alternate for the Tokyo 2020 gold medallists, it said.

Collins sustained the injury on Thursday during a closed-door training match against Nigeria, her first since fracturing her right leg in February.

“Our hearts go out to Sydney during this difficult time. She has worked incredibly hard to return in time for Paris 2024, and while this is a setback, we know she will come back stronger,” said women’s national team head coach Bev Priestman.

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“She will be with us in spirit every step of the way.

“With the depth and resilience of our roster, it’s a next-player-up mentality, and both Gabby and Desiree’s experience will be invaluable to our team’s success.”

Canada will begin the defence of their Olympic title on July 25 against Group A opponents New Zealand. 

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