ZAGREB, Oct 7 (Reuters) - Croatia sacked coach Ante Cacic and named Zlatko Dalic as his replacement on Saturday ahead of their crunch World Cup Group I qualifier in Ukraine, the Balkan nation’s Football Association (HNS) president Davor Suker said.
“Dalic is the new coach and will be in charge for the last game away to Ukraine,” Suker told a news conference in the Croatian capital.
”The HNS executive board made a unanimous decision after a long night to terminate cooperation with Cacic.
“We took only four points in the last four games and had no choice but to take this course of action.”
The 50-year old Dalic, a former midfielder who spent the bulk of his career at Croatian side Varteks Varazdin, coached Emirati team Al Ain in the past three years and took them to the Asian Champions League final in 2016.
Cacic, unpopular with many of the Croatia players and most fans, was dismissed after Friday’s 1-1 home draw with Finland left their hopes of reaching next year’s tournament in Russia hanging in the balance.
The Croatians are second in the group with 17 points from nine games, two behind leaders Iceland and ahead of third-placed Ukraine on goal difference.
A win over the Ukrainians on Monday would guarantee a runners-up finish and a playoff berth, with the top spot available only in the unlikely event that Iceland slip up at home against bottom team Kosovo in their final match.
Pressure mounted on Cacic halfway through the campaign as Croatia suffered 1-0 defeats in Iceland and Turkey before the draw with Finland allowed Iceland to leap above them.
Asked whether Dalic was a long-term choice, Suker said: “Coaches live by their results and we will see what happens. I am confident we can get a result in Ukraine.”
Europe’s nine group winners qualify automatically for next year’s 32-team tournament in Russia while the eight best runners-up will enter two-leg playoffs for the remaining four berths.
Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic in Belgrade; Editing by Ed Osmond