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.”

source: Getty Images
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.

History denied! Real Madrid loses, fails in bid to beat Pele-led record (video)

AP Photo/Francisco Seco
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Real Madrid did everything but score, and now find themselves denied a chance at unparalleled history and in a relatively deep early hole in La Liga’s table.

A stoppage time loss to visiting Real Betis ended the club’s 73-match run of matches with a goal, and it came on the day it could’ve passed Pele’s Santos for sole possession of the longest scoring streak in history.

[ MORE: Pulisic scores 10th BVB goal ]

Perhaps more important, Madrid now sits seven points back of first place Barcelona. Their eight points leave them sixth.

Real Madrid 0-1 Real Betis

The hosts looked so good, and so fluid… and provided any number of finishes which would’ve been goals on another day. Unfortunately for them, the only goal came from Paraguay’s Antonio Sanabria in the fourth minute of second half stoppage time.

That’s because Real Betis goalkeeper Antonio Adan was sensational, including a stunning stop on Gareth Bale‘s backheeled volley in the final quarter hour.

It could’ve gone worse for Madrid, as Mexico’s Andres Guardado had an assist called back for offside.

Before that, there was this from one of the best in history:

Athletic Bilbao 1-2 Atletico Madrid

Angel Correa and Yannick Carrasco helped the visitors go second in La Liga, as ex-Atleti midfielder Raul Garcia provided Athletic’s only goal deep into stoppage time.

Elsewhere
Leganes 0-0 Girona
Deportivo de la Coruna 1-0 Alaves
Sevilla 1-0 Las Palmas

League Cup draw: Spurs host Hammers; Everton off to Chelsea

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Sixteen teams are five wins from a berth in the Europa League following the fourth round draw for the League Cup.

Eleven of the 16 belong to the Premier League, leaving Leeds United, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Norwich City, Bristol City, and Middlesbrough to dream of dream runs to Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: Pulisic scores 10th BVB goal ]

There are only a trio of all-Premier League ties in the bunch, including a high-profile London clash between Spurs and West Ham.

Chelsea will host Everton, while Manchester United heads to Wales for a date with Swansea City.

All-in-all, we could have quarterfinals without a single Cinderella story.

Full draw
Tottenham Hotspur vs. West Ham United
Bristol City vs. Crystal Palace
Arsenal vs. Norwich City
Chelsea vs. Everton
Swansea City vs. Manchester United
Manchester City vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers
Bournemouth vs. Middlesbrough
Leicester City vs. Leeds United

League Cup wrap: Sane saves Man City; Big boys roll (video)

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There were neither upsets nor much drama to be found as five European contenders joined the League Cup on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Pulisic scores 10th BVB goal ]

Man City needed to overcome a surprising late equalizer from Premier League hosts West Brom, and Arsenal’s finishing wasn’t up to par in the lone close score line of the day.

Blowouts dotted the landscape as second-choice and fuller-strength giants powered past lesser competition to reach the fourth round.


Everton 3-0 Sunderland

USMNT winger Lynden Gooch got a start for the Black Cats, who also had ex-Everton players James Vaughn, Jack Rodwell, and Darron Gibson on the pitch.

The familiarity didn’t stop Dominic Calvert-Lewin from giving the Toffees a first half lead, and buttressing the advantage with a second half marker. Oumar Niasse rounded out the scoring for Everton.

Chelsea 5-1 Nottingham Forest

Kenedy, Michy Batshuayi, and Charly Musonda scored first half goals. Batshuayi completed a brace after fine work from Eden Hazard in the second, then completed his hat trick late. Ex-Burnley man Tendayi Darikwa spoiled Chelsea’s clean sheet in second half stoppage.

For Musonda, it was this goal on his full senior debut.

Arsenal 1-0 Doncaster Rovers

Alexis Sanchez opened up the defense and found Theo Walcott to make it 1-0. That was all the Gunners needed to top Darren Ferguson’s League One side.

West Bromwich Albion 1-2 Manchester City

Leroy Sane put home an Ilkay Gundogan rebound in just the third minute, and avoided blushes for City after a late concession with an even later winner. Hal Robson-Kanu missed a point-blank shot deep into stoppage as City survived the Baggies’ fight back.

Here’s Claudio Yacob‘s surprising equalizer.

Manchester United 4-1 Burton Albion

The below statistic was accurate before Marcus Rashford added his second of the first half. Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial also scored for United, while Lloyd Dier ruined the Red Devils clean sheet minutes from full time.

 

Bundesliga: Pulisic stars in another BVB win (video)

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Writing these Bundesliga wraps from an American perspective means paying attention to Christian Pulisic, but the 19-year-old USMNT phenom would have his name in print anyway.

[ MORE: Rashford’s League Cup screamer ]

Pulisic had a goal and helped set-up another as BVB continued its excellent start to the Bundesliga season as one of five league matches on Wednesday.


Hamburg 0-3 Borussia Dortmund

Shinji Kagawa and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored on either side of halftime as BVB kept up its near perfect start to the Bundesliga season. BVB is 4W-1D with 13 goals scored and zero conceded, good for a one-point edge on Bayern Munich.

Andriy Yarmolenko was the star of the show, though many American eyes were trained on USMNT stars Christian Pulisic and Bobby Wood. The former was lively and produced a few chances, including the penultimate pass/hockey assist on Aubameyang’s goal, while Wood didn’t see much of the ball thanks to BVB’s fine form.

In reverse order, the goal and the “assist.”

Koln 0-1 Eintracht Frankfurt

The nightmare start continues, this time thanks to a Sebastien Haller penalty kick. USMNT back Timmy Chandler went 90 for the victors.

Hertha Berlin 2-1 Bayer Leverkusen

Mathew Leckie and Salomon Kalou helped the hosts almost cruised to three points at the Olympiastadion before a Julian Brandt 84th minute goal tightened the finish.

Freiburg 1-1 Hannover 96

96 looked set to continue its decent start off Martin Harnik’s fourth goal of the league season, but Nils Peterson’s 83rd minute goal meant points were shared at Schwarzwald Stadion.

Mainz 2-3 Hoffenheim

The hosts led 2-0 after 16 minutes, but Sandro Wagner’s first half stoppage time goal had it level by the break. It stayed that way deep into second half stoppage, when Mark Uth’s fourth of the season completed Hoffenheim’s comeback.

STANDINGS

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Borussia Dortmund 5 4 1 0 13 0 13 2-0-0 2-1-0 13
 Bayern Munich 5 4 0 1 12 3 9 2-0-0 2-0-1 12
 1899 Hoffenheim 5 3 2 0 9 5 4 2-1-0 1-1-0 11
 Hannover 96 5 3 2 0 6 2 4 2-0-0 1-2-0 11
 FC Augsburg 5 3 1 1 8 4 4 2-1-0 1-0-1 10
 FC Schalke 04 5 3 0 2 7 6 1 2-0-1 1-0-1 9
 Mönchengladbach 5 2 2 1 7 5 2 2-0-1 0-2-0 8
 Hertha BSC Berlin 5 2 2 1 6 5 1 2-1-0 0-1-1 8
 RB Leipzig 5 2 1 2 8 6 2 1-1-0 1-0-2 7
 Eintracht Frankfurt 5 2 1 2 3 3 0 0-0-2 2-1-0 7
 Hamburger SV 5 2 0 3 4 8 -4 1-0-2 1-0-1 6
 VfB Stuttgart 5 2 0 3 3 7 -4 2-0-0 0-0-3 6
 VfL Wolfsburg 5 1 2 2 3 6 -3 0-2-1 1-0-1 5
 Bayer Leverkusen 5 1 1 3 9 10 -1 1-1-0 0-0-3 4
 FSV Mainz 05 5 1 0 4 5 10 -5 1-0-2 0-0-2 3
 SC Freiburg 5 0 3 2 2 9 -7 0-3-0 0-0-2 3
 Werder Bremen 5 0 2 3 3 7 -4 0-0-2 0-2-1 2
 1. FC Köln 5 0 0 5 1 13 -12 0-0-2 0-0-3 0