Andraz Sporar gave Slovenia the lead inside four minutes in LjubljanaAndraz Sporar scored twice for Slovenia in Ljubljana

Northern Ireland’s hopes of qualifying for Euro 2024 are all but over after a 4-2 defeat by Slovenia in Ljubljana.

In a chaotic opening 20 minutes Isaac Price cancelled out Andraz Sporar’s early opener before Petar Stojanovic’s deflected goal restored Slovenia’s lead.

Benjamin Sesko added a third on 41 minutes to put two goals between the sides at the break.

Jonny Evans pulled one back after the restart but Sporar grabbed his second in the 56th minute to halt any potential comeback.

The defeat leaves Northern Ireland seven points off qualification at the halfway point of Group H, with just one win in five matches and placed second from bottom.

Slovenia opened the scoring in the third minute when Sesko fed striker partner Sporar, who beat the offside trap with a perfectly-timed run and the Panathinaikos forward kept his cool to slot into the bottom corner.

In a strong response, Northern Ireland were level four minutes later. The brilliant Conor McMenamin played in a teasing low cross and Matty Kennedy forced Oblak into a superb save, but Standard Liege midfielder Price kept his cool to tuck away the rebound for his first international goal.

However, Slovenia went into half-time with a two-goal lead when Stojanovic’s cross deflected off Evans and into the goal. Sesko, who also had an effort ruled out, was then allowed the space to turn in the area and the Red Bull Leipzig forward fired into the bottom corner.

Sporar hit the crossbar early in the second half, but Evans showed super footwork in the area before curling a deflected effort past the outstretched Jan Oblak to make it 3-2.

However, Slovenia hit back again when Sporar got the better of Trai Hume and kept his composure to beat the sliding defender and keeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell before rolling the ball into the empty goal.

  • Slovenia beat Northern Ireland - as it happened

Chaotic opening in Ljubljana

After three 1-0 defeats by Finland, Denmark and Kazakhstan left Northern Ireland fifth in Group H heading into Thursday’s game, Michael O’Neill’s side made the worst possible start when Sporar struck.

Price’s equaliser came after superb work by the lively McMenamin, who tortured Erik Janza in the first half, and sparked wild celebrations from the 850 travelling Northern Ireland fans.

The goal lifted the visitors, with Kennedy curling a free-kick wide and McMenamin causing more problems with his direct play.

However, their good work was undone when Stojanovic got the better of Ciaron Brown and his cross deflected in off Evans.

Brown was forced off after injuring his ankle in the build-up, which adds to O’Neill’s injury woes for Sunday’s game with Kazakhstan.

Shea Charles, who volleyed over from long range, and McMenamin were at the heart of everything good that Northern Ireland produced, and the St Mirren winger’s cross was inches away from the onrushing Paddy McNair.

Sesko thought he had made it three when he touched home from close range but he was flagged offside.

However, the forward made no mistake when he swivelled in the area and his low effort found the bottom corner.

Shea Charles celebrates with Isaac PriceIsaac Price equalised for Northern Ireland early in the first half

The manic nature of the game continued after the restart when Sporar rattled the underside of the crossbar from close range, before Evans claimed a sixth international goal.

Sporar then got in behind Hume, who was playing left-back after Brown’s injury, and tucked home for the hosts.

He headed well over in search of his hat-trick, while O’Neill’s defensive options were further weakened when experienced defender Craig Cathcart, who replaced Brown in the first half, was taken off after going down with 15 minutes to play.

Substitute Paul Smyth, making his Northern Ireland return, couldn’t get on the end of an Evans knockdown to pull one back with 10 minutes left and Josh Magennis and McMenamin could only head straight at Oblak from inside the area.

Slovenia’s keeper and captain was called upon again to deny a powerful McMenamin effort, but Sporar was denied a treble at the other end when Evans cleared his finish off the line.

  • Line-ups
  • Match Stats
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Formation 4-4-2

  • 1Oblak
  • 2Karnicnik
  • 23Brekalo Booked at 90mins
  • 6Bijol
  • 13JanzaSubstituted forBalkovecat 85’minutes
  • 20Stojanovic
  • 22Cerin
  • 10ElsnikSubstituted forLovricat 90’minutes
  • 17MlakarSubstituted forKurticat 74’minutes
  • 9Sporar
  • 11SeskoSubstituted forVipotnikat 85’minutes


  • 3Balkovec
  • 4Blazic
  • 5Gorenc Stankovic
  • 7Matko
  • 8Lovric
  • 12Belec
  • 14Kurtic
  • 15Drkusic
  • 16Vidovsek
  • 18Vipotnik
  • 19Zahovic
  • 21Celar

Northern Ireland

Formation 4-1-4-1

  • 1Peacock-Farrell
  • 3Hume
  • 5Evans
  • 17McNair
  • 22BrownSubstituted forCathcartat 20’minutesSubstituted forSmythat 76’minutes
  • 19Charles Booked at 58mins
  • 7McMenamin
  • 14Price Booked at 48mins Substituted forMcCannat 64’minutes Booked at 90mins
  • 6Saville
  • 13KennedySubstituted forWashingtonat 45’minutes
  • 10CharlesSubstituted forMagennisat 45’minutes


  • 2Spencer
  • 4Toal
  • 8Smyth
  • 9Washington
  • 11Jones
  • 12Hazard
  • 15Thompson
  • 16McCann
  • 18Lyons
  • 20Cathcart
  • 21Magennis
  • 23Southwood

Match Stats

Live Text

  1. Match ends, Slovenia 4, Northern Ireland 2.

  2. Second Half ends, Slovenia 4, Northern Ireland 2.

  3. David Brekalo (Slovenia) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.

  4. Paul Smyth (Northern Ireland) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

  5. Foul by David Brekalo (Slovenia).

  6. Corner, Slovenia. Conceded by Jonny Evans.

  7. Attempt blocked. Andraz Sporar (Slovenia) right footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked.

  8. Ali McCann (Northern Ireland) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.

  9. Foul by Ali McCann (Northern Ireland).

  10. Sandi Lovric (Slovenia) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

  11. Offside, Northern Ireland. Shea Charles tries a through ball, but Paul Smyth is caught offside.

  12. Hand ball by Andraz Sporar (Slovenia).

  13. Substitution, Slovenia. Sandi Lovric replaces Timi Elsnik.

  14. Foul by Paul Smyth (Northern Ireland).

  15. Jure Balkovec (Slovenia) wins a free kick on the left wing.

  16. Attempt saved. Conor McMenamin (Northern Ireland) right footed shot from the left side of the box is saved in the bottom right corner. Assisted by Shea Charles.

  17. Substitution, Slovenia. Jure Balkovec replaces Erik Janza.

  18. Substitution, Slovenia. Zan Vipotnik replaces Benjamin Sesko.

  19. Offside, Slovenia. Jan Oblak tries a through ball, but Andraz Sporar is caught offside.

  20. Attempt saved. Conor McMenamin (Northern Ireland) header from the centre of the box is saved in the bottom right corner.