Baric leaves Croatia post

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The Independent Online

Croatia are set to replace Otto Baric as the national coach next week following the team's early exit from Euro 2004 after Baric indicated he would not stay on because of "unfair treatment" in the local media.

Croatia are set to replace Otto Baric as the national coach next week following the team's early exit from Euro 2004 after Baric indicated he would not stay on because of "unfair treatment" in the local media.

After the Croatian Federation said it was considering a replacement, Baric said: "Top officials, including the Federation's president, tried to persuade me to stay but I do not want to carry on."

The president, Vlatko Markovic, said yesterday he wanted a coach in place as soon as possible. "We don't have much time. We have a friendly against Israel on 18 August which is a key test for our World Cup campaign," he said.

"We want the new coach to have a successful playing and coaching career behind him. We have a team that can qualify for the 2006 World Cup in Germany, but the task is in no way easy," Markovic added. The Federation is scheduled to name the coach a week today, with Baric's contract due to expire on 31 July.

Croatia finished third in their Euro 2004 group stage, behind France and England but ahead of Switzerland, with two draws and one defeat.

"I was celebrated as a hero after the draw with France, but labelled as the main reason for defeat against England," the 71-year-old Baric said. "I think my work overall was a success as I managed to secure a place at the Euro 2004 finals."

The Croatian media criticised Baric for focusing too much on defence, reshuffling his line-ups and failing to field talented young players.

Baric said earlier this week he was confident he could win Croatia a place at the next World Cup, but added that he did not want to carry on under the current pressures.

"We have many candidates for the coaching post, even from some European countries, but no one has so far given any promises or guarantees," Markovic said,adding that the Federation did not want to choose a foreigner because he would need more time to get to know the squad.

Croatia have been drawn with the Euro 2004 finalists Sweden and Bulgaria, as well as Iceland, Hungary and Malta, for their World Cup qualifying campaign. They start their group matches at home to Hungary on 4 September.

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