SLOVENIA come to Wembley boasting one of the world’s best goalkeepers in the world in Jan Oblak.
The highly regarded Atletico Madrid man is thought to be a Paris Saint-Germain transfer target.
But he’s not the only top class keeper to come from Slovenia… our friends at Football Whispers look at the former Yugoslav state’s best stoppers.
Oblak is one of the best keepers in the world right now, there’s no doubt about that.
The CIES Football Observatory rates him as the most valuable goalkeeper in the world at the moment, above the likes of David De Gea and Thibaut Courtois.
He is considerably more valuable than the four goalkeepers in the England squad.
Joe Hart is valued at three times less, along with Fraser Forster, while Jordan Pickford and Jack Butland are miles behind.
The 24-year-old has made it look easy replacing Courtois since his arrival at Atletico Madrid in 2014.
He was won a number of awards over recent years, including being named in the Champions League Team of the Season in both the 2015/16 and 2016/17 seasons.
The Atleti shot-stopper has also been the recipient of the last two Zamora trophies in Spain – the award given to the goalkeeper with the lowest goals-to-games ratio in La Liga.
He conceded just 18 times in 38 games in 2015/16, and let in 21 goals in 29 matches in 2017/18.
Legendary Real Madrid keeper Iker Casillas only managed to win the award once.
Speaking earlier this year, his Atleti team-mate Antoine Griezmann claimed there is no finer player in his position than Oblak.
The French forward said: “We say he’s the best goalkeeper in the world. He proves it in every game.”
Not bad for someone from a country with a population of just over two million people, who have only qualified for three major international tournaments in their history.
Yet Oblak isn’t the first top-class country Slovenia have produced.
Before he was No1, their goalkeeper was Samir Handanovic, also highly-regarded and considered one of the best in his position.
It was no surprise to see him subject of Manchester United transfer rumours this summer in case de Gea left.
The Inter Milan keeper has 81 caps for his country but is retired from international football after deciding to focus on club football after Slovenia’s failure to qualify for Euro 2016.
The 33-year-old been playing in Italy since 2004, and had spells at Udinese, Lazio, Treviso and Rimini before joining Inter in 2012.
Like Oblak, he’s also won numerous accolades, including being named in the Serie A Team of the Year twice and winning Serie A Goalkeeper of the Year twice.
Both Handanovic and Oblak have a large stature and imposing physique, which means they’re both effective at handling crosses, but that’s not all they are good at.
In the 2010/11 season, Handanovic stopped six penalties in Serie A while playing for Udinese, before repeating the trick for Inter in 2014.
His form for his club saw former Inter goalkeeper Francesco Toldo hail him back in 2015.
Toldo said: “Handanovic is unreal.
“He’s carrying the team with his great saves. It almost seems like the norm, but I think it’s certainly not normal.
“He should be given more acclaim, this goalkeeper, he really excels and doesn’t get downhearted.
“He makes great saves. It’s difficult for him, because the defence suffers at times, but he’s always ready.”
Vid Belec and Jan Koprivec, Slovenia’s other two goalkeepers in the squad, aren’t world class, but it’s worth noting that they have both played their football in Italy too.
Belec, Koprivec, Oblak and Handanovic all left Slovenia young to pursue their career.
Belec joined Inter aged 16 in 2007, Koprivec signed for Cagliari aged 18 in 2007, Handanovic joined Udinese aged 20 in 2004, while Oblak was 17 when he arrived at Benfica in 2010.
It would seem that young Slovenian goalkeepers believe success could lie with an early move to a country with more of a traditional football background.
That may be because sports like ice hockey, handball and basketball have more of a history in Slovenia, with the country’s teams being more successful than their football side.
Slovenia’s basketball team won the Eurobasket in 2017, while their hockey team has qualified for nine Ice Hockey World Championship.
Their handball side has played at eight World Championships too, finishing runners-up in 2004.
If those sports are more prominent, skills learned using them are predominantly with your hands and that would benefit goalkeepers.
When you see keepers are being taken to bigger European leagues at a young age, it would suggest scouts believe Slovenia could be the place to look for the next big thing in goal.