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Kovac expects to remain as Croatia coach

Tuesday - 6/24/2014, 9:50am  ET

Croatia's coach Niko Kovac touches his face during the group A World Cup soccer match between Croatia and Mexico at the Arena Pernambuco in Recife, Brazil, Monday, June 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

BRETT MARTEL
AP Sports Writer

RECIFE, Brazil (AP) -- Niko Kovac expects to remain as Croatia's coach, even though his side was unable to advance out of the group stage of the World Cup.

"Why not? We qualified for the World Cup and that was a success for us," Kovac said Monday, following his side's 3-1 loss to Mexico. "I have a contract ... and it will continue. I do not see any reason why it shouldn't. I said before, this was a tough group."

Croatia needed to beat Mexico on Monday in order to advance to the World Cup knockout round for the first time since 1998, but was doomed by Mexico's three-goal burst during a 10-minute span in the second half. Croatia, which also lost 3-1 to Brazil and beat Cameroon 4-0, finished third in Group A.

"That's life. I said this group was very tough. Mexico and Brazil were the favorites," Kovac said. "We couldn't spring a surprise."

Croatia entered the World Cup expressing confidence it could advance because of the resumes of several top players who've thrived in Europe's top professional leagues, including midfielders Luka Modric of Real Madrid and Ivan Rakitic, who played for Sevilla last season and is set to join Barcelona.

Up front, meanwhile, Croatia fielded Bayern Munich star striker Mario Mandzukic.

"We have a quality team. We have to work hard. We have to analyze what we lacked and we are going to improve those things, be it mentally, psychologically, physically, tactically, technically," Kovac said. "We will analyze our performances and we will draw conclusions. I think we've made good progress over the last six months, but this process of development should continue."

On the eve of Monday's match, Kovac had expressed optimism about beating Mexico, but also stressed that he would not view it as a failure, or the end of a special generation of Croatian talent, if his lineup failed to advance in Brazil.

Modric, Rakitic and Mandzukic are all in their mid- to late-20s, as are several others who comprise the core of the squad. In addition, younger players such as 20-year-olds Ante Rebic and Mateo Kovacic have worked their way into the rotation. Both entered Monday's match as second-half substitutes.

"This is young generation," Kovac said. "We have several young players from the under-21s and Croatia has a pool of players it can rely upon for a time to come. Those lads who play for top (European) clubs are still young and this generation can be together for maybe another five or six years."


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