Kovac replaces Stimac as Croatia coach

Poor end to qualifying campaign sees change of guard ahead of play-offs

Croatia have sacked  coach Igor Stimac following the 2-0 defeat to Scotland, replacing him with another former international in Niko Kovac. Photograph: Antonio Bronic/Reuters

Croatia have sacked coach Igor Stimac following the 2-0 defeat to Scotland, replacing him with another former international in Niko Kovac. Photograph: Antonio Bronic/Reuters

Wed, Oct 16, 2013, 14:12

Former international midfielder Niko Kovac has replaced Igor Stimac as Croatia’s coach, the country’s Football Association (HNS) president Davor Suker said on Wednesday.

Stimac, who offered his resignation after Tuesday’s 2-0 defeat by Scotland, was sacked after Croatia scraped into the World Cup play-offs having taken only one point from their last four qualifiers.

Kovac was promoted to his new position after excelling with the under-21 side, notching four wins out of four as the team scored 13 goals and conceded none in their Euro 2015 qualifying group.

“The HNS executive board decided unanimously to relieve Stimac of his duties and terminate his contract while the body has also decided to name Kovac as his successor,” Suker told a news conference.

“It was a difficult decision because Stimac is a personal friend and a former Croatia team-mate but a string of poor results and performances made it inevitable.

“Kovac will take over as the caretaker coach for the upcoming play-off but our intention is to offer him a long-term contract whether or not we reach the World Cup finals in Brazil.”

Stimac, who took over from the more popular Slaven Bilic in July 2012, had an uneasy relationship with the media and fans from the start but seemed on course to win their hearts after a 2-0 home win over bitter Balkan rivals Serbia underlined Croatia’s good start in Group A.

After that victory and a fortuitous 2-1 away defeat of Wales, the Croatians were joint top with Belgium on 16 points from five games but it all went wrong for Stimac and his men after a 1-0 home loss to Scotland.

Belgium ran away as group winners and won an automatic berth in next year’s finals while Croatia held on to the runners-up spot with a 1-1 draw at Serbia, followed by a 2-1 home defeat by the Belgians and the turgid display in Glasgow.

“I am aware that Stimac offered his resignation in a statement to the media after the game but we received nothing from him in written or verbal form on the flight back or afterwards, hence he was sacked,” said former striker Suker, who reached the 1998 World Cup semis with Croatia.

“Kovac is full of enthusiasm and we are hoping that he will steer us to Brazil because he is the right man for the hard work that lies ahead in a very short time frame.”

Croatia reached the European qualifying play-offs as one of the eight best runners-up from nine groups, alongside France, Portugal, Sweden, Greece, Ukraine, Romania and Iceland.

Meanwhile, Poland have sacked coach Waldemar Fornalik after their failure to qualify for next year’s finals, the Polish FA said on Wednesday.

Poland’s 1-0 defeat in Ukraine last week meant they could not reach the 2014 tournament and they ended the campaign with a 2-0 defeat by Group H winners England at Wembley on Tuesday. Poland finished fourth with 13 points from 10 games.

“Waldemar Fornalik has ceased to carry out the functions of national team coach,” the Polish FA said in a statement which thanked the 50-year-old former Poland defender for his “more than one year of work with the national team.”

Fornalik, former coach of Polish club Ruch Chorzow, was appointed national team coach in July last year after Franciszek Smuda was sacked following his side’s a dismal performance at the Euro 2012 tournament, which Poland co-hosted with Ukraine.

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