Legendary Croatian football coach Blazevic succumbs to cancer

Miroslav Ciro Blazevic
Former Croatian national soccer team coach Miroslav Ciro Blazevic. File photo: AFP/Hrvoje Polan

Zagreb: Miroslav Ciro Blazevic, who coached the Croatian national soccer team to the semifinals of the 1998 World Cup in France, has died. He was 87.

His family and friends said Blazevic died at a Zagreb hospital on Wednesday after a long battle with prostate cancer.

The coach of all coaches, as he was known in his home country of Croatia, led four national teams and several domestic and foreign clubs during his career.

Born into a Catholic family in Travnik, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Blazevic was an average player. His successful coaching career started in the 1960s, in the same place where his playing days ended at Swiss club Vevey.

Blazevic also led the national teams of Iran, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Switzerland. Among the clubs he coached were Dinamo Zagreb, Nantes, Grasshopper Zurich, Sion, Shanghai Shenhua, PAOK Thessaloniki and Hajduk Split.

The pinnacle of his coaching career came at the 1998 World Cup in France when Croatia finished in third place only a few years after emerging from the bloody breakup of former Yugoslavia.

"The whole country was proud, but I was sad," Blazevic said recently about the 1998 success. "If I had the experience I have now, we would have been the world champions."

He won over the crowds in France by wearing a policeman's hat on the bench in honour of a French officer who was put in a coma by German hooligans early on in the tournament.

A colorful public persona, Blazevic who was known in the 1980s for always wearing a white scarf when in public also had a stint in politics by unsuccessfully running for Croatia's presidency in a 2005 election when he won less than 1 per cent of the vote.

"Some people from high politics have persuaded me to run for the presidency as they are sure I could win," Blazevic, a fierce right-wing sympathiser, said at the time. "As for the 10,000 signatures necessary to endorse my bid, I could collect them simply by turning up at any soccer game and ask the fans to sign their names."

He was to celebrate his 88th birthday on Thursday.

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