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WORLD CUP '94: 35 DAYS AND COUNTING : Bora! Bora! Bora? : Milutinovic Enjoyed World Cup Success With Mexico and Costa Rica, but the United States Might Be His Biggest Challenge

May 13, 1994|JULIE CART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

His second move also rankled fans. Because of the stifling pressure and distractions in Costa Rica, Milutinovic took his team to Italy five weeks early. That he preferred the relative tranquillity of soccer-mad Italy gives insight to the mania rampant in Costa Rica at the time.

To further loosen up his players, Milutinovic allowed, indeed encouraged, visits to local discos. The players soon became welcomed fixtures on the Genoa night scene. Thus did the smallest nation in the World Cup prepare for battle against soccer's giants.

Milutinovic's reputation as a master tactician was solidified during the tournament. He had a good goalkeeper but otherwise an average team. Improbably, Costa Rica beat Scotland and Sweden and lost, 1-0, to mighty Brazil, gaining the quarterfinals. Its CONCACAF cousin, the United States, was eliminated after losing all three games in the first round.

But the same luck that had brought down Roy in Mexico also knocked out Costa Rica's goalkeeper, Gabelo Conejo, and suddenly Milutinovic's team was out, losing to Czechoslovakia, 4-1.

But again, advancement past the first round was seen as a triumph. And so it would be viewed for the U.S. team.

U.S. Soccer Federation President Alan Rothenberg said Thursday that he had "unbridled confidence" in Milutinovic.

"He has the reputation as a miracle worker because of what he did with Mexico and Costa Rica," Rothenberg said. "He'll have his hands full duplicating those accomplishments."

There are also these obscure statistics: Milutinovic has never coached a team through World Cup qualifying. The World Cup host nation has never failed to advance to the second round.

*

"Bora likes America," said team General Manager Bill Nuttall. "I think he appreciates freedom. He appreciates that if we put our minds to something, we can get it done. He's played everywhere. He's been everywhere. He's been affected by wars, by all kinds of adversity. He's been affected by all that."

Although he still gives the impression of being a moving target, Milutinovic does seem to enjoy his life in Laguna Niguel, even if he has not completely adopted American ways. The miracle worker works in his own way.

"From a traditional American management perspective, Bora is difficult," Steinbrecher said. "He'll change his direction; he'll change his mind. He's like a sly fox. But Bora and I understand each other. I think the man is a genius.

"Has he panned out? If you look at the win-loss record, the answer has to be no. If you look at where we were three years ago--stylistically, lack of competition, the credibility--the answer has to be yes."

Milutinovic, who is under contract through December, suggests he still enjoys moving, but soon it might affect his daughter.

"Now, Darinka is young, it is not so bad," he said. "I think it is good for her. She learns a new culture and can make new friends. At some age, after, we should stop for Darinka. For the school.

"I like to be on the road. People call me a Gypsy. But I like it. It is a chance for things. To learn a new language. To learn new things. It is good. For me to be happy, my private life and the team have to do well. Nothing more."

Profile: Bora Milutinovic

* Name: Velibor Milutinovic.

* Date of birth: Sept. 7, 1944 (according to U.S. Soccer media guide).

* Place of birth: Bajina Basta, Yugoslavia.

* Nationality: Serbian.

* Date named national coach: March 27, 1991.

* Cumulative record (U.S. team, full internationals): 26-30-26; (full internationals with Mexico, Costa Rica and the U.S.): 57-41-41; (cumulative World Cup record): 5-2-2.

* Little-known item: He is believed to have coached in more full internationals than any other coach in history.

* Honors: He is one of only two coaches to have coached three countries in the World Cup final.

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