Slovenia coach Matjaz Kek insists England are still one of the favorites to win Euro 2024, as he aims to stop Gareth Southgate’s troubled side from finishing top of Group C on Tuesday.

England arrived in Germany as the bookmakers’ leading candidates to lift the trophy, but they have failed to live up to the hype in their first two games.

A nervous 1-0 win against Serbia was followed by a drab 1-1 draw against Denmark, sparking scathing criticism from former England stars Alan Shearer and Gary Lineker.

But Kek refused to write off England when it was suggested Slovenia might be able to take advantage of their opponents’ unexpected frailties.

“We are playing against one of the favorites, if not the favorite, for the tournament,” he told reporters on Monday.

“We respect England very much. We know their strengths and their individuals.

“The Euros have just started, and I see them as one of the favorites to win the tournament.

“I don’t know why I would question England, be it the individuals or the team in general.”

Heading into the last round of group games, England sit top on four points, with third-placed Slovenia and second-placed Denmark both on two points and fourth-placed Serbia on one.

A shock defeat against Slovenia in Cologne on Tuesday would shatter England’s hopes of winning the group and earning a potentially easier draw in the last 16.

Slovenia have drawn their opening two games but would progress to the knockout stages if they beat England.

Slovenia and Denmark, who played Serbia in their last game, are currently level on goal difference and goals scored in the race for second place.

Kek said Slovenia would balance their desire to subdue England’s stars with the knowledge that a surprise win would send them through.

He said that the next day’s match would be the ‘final’ in the group and that they were still masters of their destiny.

They would try to neutralize England, but they also had the quality to score a goal.

He recognized that everyone was trying to follow other matches as well, which was only human, but he was not a fan of calculations. He believed that they still had everything in their hands.

Kek was in his first spell as Slovenia boss at the 2010 World Cup when they faced England in their last group game, losing 1-0 as the Three Lions went through at their expense.

Now six years into his second stint in charge of the Slovenians, Kek believes the time is right for his country to avenge that painful loss.

He mentioned that it was a long time ago and recalled that England had great players like John Terry and Frank Lampard.

However, he noted that now they had many big individuals as well. He emphasized that it didn’t matter who they played, whether it was England, Malta, or anyone else; they had to be brave. He believed that this generation of the Slovenian national team deserved something.

Slovenia’s Leipzig forward Benjamin Sesko is expected to be fit after suffering a quad injury against Serbia on Thursday.

With AFP