STA, 23 May - Maribor defeated the defending champions Mura 3:1 in Murska Sobota on Sunday to claim their 16th national championship title. They turned the things around in the last round, leapfrogging Koper, who played a goalless draw with Bravo in Ljubljana. The conclusion of the premier league did not go without some controversy, though.
Maribor finished the 36-round premier league competition with 70 points, three more than Koper, who had been looking at what would be their second national championship title ever.
The perennial champions from Slovenia's second city had a turbulent season. They replaced the head coach last September, with Radovan Karanović taking over to try to make some separation from Koper, who were neck-and-neck with Maribor all the time.
Two rounds before the end, Koper were on top of the rankings, but after winning the national cup, they slipped against Radomlje in the penultimate round to open the path for Maribor to win the record 16th Slovenian champions title.
Maribor scored on the chance by defeating the defending champions Mura on the road yesterday. "I always believed that we could be champions because I believed in what we have been doing," head coach Karanović told Šport TV after the win.
He noted that the players had shown the will for success. "I congratulate all the lads and the entire Maribor for returning where it belongs," he said, admitting that he was not happy with the parity of the league as fans were.
"The season was really even until the end, that's fine for the fans, but not especially for us, to be honest with you," said the coach. who is signed until 2024 and whose goal is to take Maribor to one of the European club competitions.
Maribor will now play in the first round of qualifying for the UEFA Champions League, and will get their opponent on 14 June.
Koper will play in the second qualifying round of the third-tier Conference League, while Olimpija, who did not manage to come to the top even after the arrival of Croatian head coach Robert Prosinečki, and Mura playing in the first round.
"Maribor has to take a step forward, as other teams are catching up. I congratulate Koper for everything they have done, but we will really have to take a step forward," Karanović said.
Koper, on the other hand, are disappointed with the outcome, with the club president Ante Guberac raising controversy and calling for an investigation by the Slovenian Football Association (NZS).
There are allegations that Maribor had offered financial incentives to Radomlje players and that they offered a contract to the suspended Mura goalkeeper Marko Zalokar ahead of the last round.
"It is us who are the champions! What Maribor has been doing in recent weeks has tarnished the league, I've lost my respect for Maribor," Guberac told the MMC portal, adding that the club will challenge the final outcome of the championship.
Forward Ognjen Mudrinski (Maribor), who scored 17 goals, has been declared the best player of the season, while Zoran Zeljković of Koper was declared the best head coach.
I'm thankful to my teammates, because I wouldn't have scored all those goals without their assists," said Mudrinski, whose further career in Maribor is under question mark, because he plays on loan from the Polish side Jagiellonia Bialystok.