Croatia fire coach Igor Stimac, despite reaching World Cup qualifying playoff

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Apparently a 2-0 defeat away to Scotland is too much to handle for the Croatian Football Federation, as they fired head coach Igor Stimac on Wednesday despite still having a huge chance of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.

Stimac’s side had finished second in Group A behind Belgium and face a home and away playoff series with either France, Iceland, Portugal, Ukraine, Romania or Sweden next month to decide their fate.

However an alarming slide in recent games, with three defeats and one draw from their last four qualifiers, saw the Croats just hold onto their playoff spot and Stimac lost his job due to that poor form. After the defeat to Scotland on Tuesday, Stimac reportedly offered his resignation and was then cast aside by Croatia.

“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,” President of the Croatian Football Federation Davor Suker said. “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.”

(MORE: Field set for UEFA’s eight-team playoff, Denmark the odd man out)

So, in caretaker charge for Croatia’s crucial two-legged playoff in November will be the current U-21 coach Niko Kovac and his brother Robert Kovac. Both of whom played for the national team for many years, and the weight of expectation now falls firmly on their shoulders for this playoff, and the foreseeable future.

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

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Modric and other Croatian stars need to step up if they’re going to make Brazil 2014.

No pressure, Niko. But seriously, the Croatian players will respect the Kovac’s for all they accomplished in putting Croatian soccer on the map. But now they must deliver from the dugout instead of the pitch.

Is it me, or does changing a manager just a few weeks before a huge World Cup playoff game seem a little bizarre? Some would argue it’s a knee-jerk reaction, however with Stimac clearly losing the locker room and players not performing, something drastic had to be done, and Suker and the Croatian Football Federation have duly obliged.

There are some massive nations Croatia could face in the UEFA playoffs — France, Ukraine, Portugal and Sweden to name a few — but with players like Luka Modric, Mario Mandzukic and Ivica Olic, the Croats could make a big splash in Brazil.

Hopefully this managerial change has the desired effect and gives the talented group of players a much needed kick up the backside.

It’s a bold move, but I like it.

Could Iniesta succeed at Manchester City

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It appears more likely with each passing day that Andres Iniesta will leave Barcelona at the end of the season.

The general feeling around Iniesta’s future is that he’ll either follow former teammate Xavi Hernandez to a club in Qatar or the United Arab Emirates, or follow Javier Mascherano to a club in China.

But according to reports in Spain, Iniesta has received a request from a manager who is inextricably linked with his career.

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Per Diario AS, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has reached out to Iniesta to try and gauge the 33-year old’s interest in coming to England. It’s a surprising move, considering Iniesta has appeared to have lost a step, and while his skill on the ball is still world class, he hasn’t played as big of a role for Barcelona this season as in years past.

But the big question for Iniesta – as hard as it is to believe we’re asking this – is where he’d fit into the side, and who he’d push out.

If Guardiola sees Iniesta as part of his best XI, and Iniesta played his usual position on the left side of a midfield trio or at left wing, that would see either David Silva or Leroy Sane losing their spot in the team. That’s hard to see, considering how big of an impact those players had.

Sane has scored nine goals and dished out 12 assists in the Premier League while Silva has a nearly-identical stat line, with nine goals and 11 assists in league play.

However, if Guardiola, who played a very small squad this season, wants to have a world-class player to bring off the bench some games or spot start in the UEFA Champions League, he couldn’t do much better than signing Iniesta.

After being given time to adjust to the physicality of the Premier League, there’s no reason why, even at his advanced age, Iniesta can’t make a big impact in 25-30 games for Man City in the future. You can imagine the Spanish maestro setting up 10 to 15 goals and scoring a few himself as he plays for another title-winning side.

Of course, Iniesta likely won’t earn as much money with Man City as he would in the Arab world or in China, so he has a big decision to make coming up.

Iniesta won three La Liga titles, two Copas Del Rey, two UEFA Champions League and two FIFA Club World Cup titles under Guardiola as Barcelona shined as the best club in the world during that era. Iniesta also made UEFA’s Team of the Year all four years.

Perhaps reuniting with Guardiola can bring the best out of Iniesta once again.

Report: Man United to target Rose, other full backs this summer

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Jose Mourinho has identified perhaps the most underrated position on the pitch as a place he needs to upgrade his squad this summer.

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According to a report from The Guardian, the Manchester United manager is looking to sign Tottenham wing back Danny Rose and potentially another full back in the summer transfer window. With Luke Shaw likely to leave the club, Mourinho is left with incumbents left back Ashley Young and right back Antonio Valencia, both on the wrong side of 30-years old and both converted wingers playing out-of-position.

Mourinho last December decried crosstown rivals Man City for spending more than $140 million to sign wing backs Benjamin Mendy and Kyle Walker last summer. Though Mendy missed most of the season with a torn ACL, Walker and fellow outside back Danilo helped give Man City’s attack another dimension out wide, as the wing backs in the 3-4-3 or Man City’s 4-1-4-1 with Fernandinho dropping back into the centerback pairing become ever more important.

Rose has had a contentious last 18-months or so at Tottenham and could be looking to leave this summer. But it will likely take a bid north of $75 million, around what it cost Man City to sign Walker last summer, to buy Rose out of his Tottenham contract.

Matteo Darmian meanwhile, another potential outside back for Man United, could also be departing the club this summer, as Man United looks to replenish its side.

Errors down, penalty kicks up after introduction of VAR in Italy

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The implementation of Video Assistant Referee (VAR) in Italy has been controversial, but according to a look at the statistics, it has for the most part done its job to fix clear and obvious errors.

Italian sports paper Gazzetta Dello Sport compiled all the times VAR has been used through 346 matches, 330 in Serie A and 16 in the Coppa Italia. There were 1,736 checks (916 goals, 464 penalties and 356 red cards) with 105 corrections and just 17 errors where the referee and assistant made the wrong decision. Eight of those errors did affect the result, which is an issue that will surely be addressed by the Italian officiating organization.

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But overall, Gazzetta found that in the VAR era, referee errors only amounted to 0.98 percent during a match, as opposed to 6.03 percent in the past. In addition, fouls are down 8.8 percent, red cards are down 6.4 percent, and yellow cards are down 14.7 percent. On the flip side, penalty kicks are called 4.3 more percent of the time.

The Premier League voted recently not to add VAR to its league matches next season, while top leagues in Germany, Italy and in Major League Soccer and the United Soccer League continue to use it.

Report: New Arsenal manager will have small budget to re-shape squad

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Whoever takes the helm as Arsenal’s next manager will have to do some math gymnastics this summer to stretch every penny available.

According to a report from The Telegraph, Arsenal is giving Arsene Wenger‘s successor a little less than $70 million to work with in this summer’s transfer market, citing back-to-back transfer windows with club-record signings (Alexandre Lacazette last summer and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in January) and three raises given to players. Arsenal paid around $78 million alone to sign Aubameyang and around $65 million for Lacazette.

[READ: UCL Preview: Liverpool vs. Roma]

That means whoever comes in next to lead Arsenal will likely have to sell one or two players this summer to raise additional money for world-class signings.

For the last decade, Arsenal has been crying out for a new pair of centerbacks and a holding midfielder in the mould of Patrick Vieira. In addition, with Petr Cech getting older, the prospect of needing a new goalkeeper is also on the horizon.

Luckily for Arsenal, they seem to be just fine up front. From Aubameyang and Lacazette to Mesut Ozil, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Aaron Ramsey, the club has the talent to challenge for a title next season in that department.

A dozen different names have been bandied about as to who will be Arsenal’s next manager, with out-of-contract and former Barcelona manager Luis Enrique reportedly on the shortlist. Vieira, former Arsenal midfielder Mikel Arteta, Germany National Team coach Joachim Low, Juventus boss Max Allegri and Hoffenheim’s Julian Nagelsman have all also been linked with the job.