Otto Baric has been appointed as the new coach of the Croatian national side, the Croatian Football Federation (HNS) said today.
Baric will replace Mirko Jozic who stepped down as Croatia coach after they failed to reach the second round of the 2002 FIFA World Cup following a disappointing 1-0 defeat against Equador in their final Group G game. The new coach was chosen by the HNS Executive Committee ahead of Jokic's assistant and recently appointed chief of Croatian champions NK Zagreb, Ivan Katalinic by a margin of nine votes to four on the 14-man board.
'Our best candidate'
Committee chairman Miroslav Uljan said: "Baric was our best candidate because of his huge experience. He has been coaching for 36 years, won 12 Championships, six Cups, led 14 clubs, and has already been a national coach for Austria."
The 69-year old Baric left his post as Austrian coach last November after they failed to qualify for this summer's World Cup finals following a 6-0 aggregate play-off defeat by Turkey and his contract was not renewed by the Austrian Football Association (ÖFB). While coaching in his homeland, he won the Croatian Premier League title with NK Dinamo Zagreb, who at the time were named Croatia Zagreb.
Looking to the future
Baric's first task is to successfully guide Croatia through qualifying for EURO 2004™ where they have been drawn in Group 8 alongside Belgium, Bulgaria, Estonia and Andorra. Ironically, Croatia beat Belgium in their final group game last October to qualify automatically for the finals by one point ahead of their rivals. However Baric looks likely to have to begin to rebuild the Croatian side without the likes of Robert Prosinecki and Davor Šuker, who are both likely to quit international football.
'I have many ideas'
An enthusiastic Baric hinted that he may look within domestic football to replace any retiring stars. "I thank the HNS for their decision," he said. "I am very pleased. I am aware of the great responsibility of the job, for 95 per cent of my career I have managed to fulfil my goals. I have failed only when something was impossible. I am already intensively thinking about the job. I have many ideas, and one of them is that I give more chances to the players from the Croatian Premier League."
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