Friends, do you still remember?! Exactly 24 years ago, the first Slovenian football fairy tale was written in snowy Kiev (and today at Euro 2024!).
Source of photo: RTV Slovenia (screenshot)
Slovenia woke up on Friday, the last day of the current working week. The calendar says 17 November. For many, it will be a normal day. But not for everyone. Since the early hours of the morning, many football fans across the country have been eagerly awaiting this evening’s showdown against Denmark, and those who are a little more experienced, and even a little older, will know that it is exactly 24 years back to Kiev in fairytale-like conditions, which we don’t often witness nowadays, wrote the very first chapter of the Slovenian football success story. 17 November 1999 was the day when the first Slovenian football fairy tale was written.
Let’s go back a little further; four days before, the Slovenian and Ukrainian national teams played the first match of the 2000 European Championship qualifiers in Bežigrad. Favoured Ukraine arrived in Ljubljana undefeated in the qualifiers and with the star-studded, then ultra-promising and very hot Andrey Shevchenko, who even won the Ballon d’Or a few years later (2004).
The Ukrainians, interestingly, made practically no statements before both games. Selector Joszef Szabo and the players “bypassed” a press conference organised by the Football Association of Slovenia, trained behind closed doors and seemed confident after an unbeaten streak. And at first, their optimism did indeed seem to have a solid foundation.
The rest is history
It was Shevchenko, who later became an icon of AC Milan, who scored in the first match played in the Slovenian capital on Saturday, 13. On November 11, he gave the Ukrainians the lead in 33. minutes. At the time, guests could not have imagined what was in store for them. Slovenia’s all-time top scorer, Zlatko Zahović, made a dream second-half turnaround in 53. minute, then Milenko Aćimović scored a goal that will never be forgotten. A goal that went around the world.“Where are you now, David Beckham?!” shouted the excited TV commentator of the renowned Eurosport when Ukrainian goalkeeper Oleksandr Shovkovski in the 83. minute ran to the touchline, sent the ball towards the centre and … The rest is history.
“I think it all happened in one second. The ball suddenly came to me, I took the shot and I was lucky that it went in the goal in such an important match for Slovenia and for me. With that goal we beat a very strong Ukraine team 2-1 and I believe we are very close to qualifying for the European Championship.” Milenko Aćimović , then only 22 years old and scorer of the unforgettable goal from (almost) the centre of the pitch, told TV Slovenia.
Slovenia went to Kiev, where a crowd of 65 000 watched the showdown, with a nice goal advantage. In the Ukrainian capital, the snow made the game even more difficult, with the German referee Bernd Heynemann adding his own touch to the boisterous support for the home team.which was anything but impartial. Slovenia also found themselves behind in Kiev, but after a very suspicious 11th-minute penalty to Ukraine. In those days, VAR technology was clearly unknown, so the original decision of the head referee stuck, even though it was ridiculous. Then… Just eight minutes after the successful taking of the most severe penalty Sergei Rebrov’ s… This. This action. A new move for history.
The home goalkeeper’s net was shaken, but the spectators didn’t realise what had happened because of the white ball on the white ground. Only when Slovenians started to rejoice did it become clear that something nobody expected had happened. Miran Pavlin hit the ball in a snowstorm, Shovkovski probably didn’t even see it and then in Kiev… silence. Silence. When 65,000 people shut up.
“That goal was not just big for me, but for the whole nation. It was a really big thing. It was a turning point in my career, so it’s right to remember it every 17 November. It was not only a turning point for us footballers, it was also a football revolution in Slovenia. Even those who were not used to it before went crazy about football. Slovenia was no longer a non-football country. Even grandmothers in their 80s started to take an interest in football, it was incredible.” Pavlin recalls the goal that so saddened the Ukrainians that for several years they could not accept that a country with only two million inhabitants had let them down at the Euros.
Oh, yes, it was nice… But all that is in the past. And, you know, you can’t live on memories. And after 24 long years, the moment has come again for Europe to get to know us. Slovenians. The timing for the next Euro qualification could hardly be better. 24 years to the day since that famous evening in Kiev. And let it be as they say; history repeats itself. Let it be repeated tonight.
This text was automatically translated using AI.