Zagreb: Croatia's Football Federation (HNS) on Wednesday sacked coach Niko Kovac on the back of poor results in qualifying for Euro 2016. The move came after Croatia slipped to third in qualifying Group H over the weekend, a 0-0 draw in Azerbaijan and a 2-0 loss to Norway jeopardising their chances of reaching the finals in France.
Niko Kovac. Pic/AFP
"Before travelling to Baku and Oslo no one was even thinking that a day like this would come," HNS head Davor Suker said in a statement announcing the move. But, "results are always decisive," he stressed after the 43-year-old Kovac was sacked in the wake of a meeting of the HNS executive committee. A decision on Kovac's successor is to be taken by September 21, Suker said, although he refused to elaborate on who the new coach might be.
"I believe that we will overcome this crisis and go to France. "There is not much time ... We are worried as we are third (in Group H) and I hope that we will find the right person. Something on the pitch was not good and I hope that we will manage to take six points in the last two matches," Suker said. Croatia host Bulgaria and go to Malta in their last two games but are depending on favours elsewhere to qualify automatically rather than settle for a play-off berth.
After the loss to Norway on Sunday, Kovac intially said his players were to blame, accusing them of "not dedicating themselves sufficiently." The criticism was strongly rejected by the players, in particular Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric and captain Darijo Srna. Kovac later tried to calm tensions and said he was responsible for the result.
Croatia are currently third in the group with 15 points, one point behind Norway and three adrift of leaders Italy. However, their current tally is dependent on an appeal against the decision to dock them one point after a swastika was daubed on the pitch when they played Italy in Split in June. Kovac wrote a public letter thanking the federation, the public, players and fans for supporting him.
"I would like to apologise to all those who were expecting better results and for which they believe we or I did not achieve." Germany-born Kovac succeeded Igor Stimac as Croatia coach in October 2013. He took them to the World Cup in Brazil, where they were eliminated in the group stage. Before that he retired as a player in 2009 after winning 83 caps and representing Croatia at Euro 2004, the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2008.