The football world has been left saddened after Australian World Cup pioneer Rale Rasic has died aged 87. Rasic was a much-loved icon in Australian football and revolutionised the Aussie game when he took over as Socceroos coach in 1969.
Born in Mostar, Yugoslavia on December 26, 1935, Zvonimir "Rale" Rasic arrived in Victoria in 1962 as a journeyman player disillusioned with European football, to play for Footscray JUST. Rasic took over as head coach of the national team and ended the the system that allowed state selectors to pick the national team. Instead, Rasic called for a change where the head coach had total control and the tradition has remained in place to this day.
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Rasic was very well respected in the Aussie football landscape for the level of professionalism he brought to the team. As Joe Gorman wrote in his 2017 book 'The Life and Death of Australian Soccer': "His mind for tactics and organisation was far more advanced than his playing ability."
"His ascent from JUST to the Socceroos via Melbourne Hungaria and St. George-Budapest was meteoric. At each club he demanded the highest standards of professionalism from players, staff, and committee."
The 1973 campaign for the World Cup overcame some tough regional opponents in Iraq, Indonesia and New Zealand, before a magical 3-0 win against Iran in Sydney. Then, in front of a reputed 128,000 in Tehran, the Socceroos battled hard to only succumb 2-0 and move to the final phase.
Rasic often spoke of the fighting spirit of his 'boys' in those final matches, including a 0-0 draw with South Korea in Sydney, and then 2-2 in Seoul, before the play-off in Hong Kong was settled by the the rocket shot from Jimmy Mackay.
Rale Rasic on Australia's first ever men's FIFA World Cup finals campaign is everything 💚💛
This is how he built a culture unlike any other to create history for the Socceroos.
From #OptusSport's Football Belongs. pic.twitter.com/UWzULHC6d4
— Optus Sport (@OptusSport) June 8, 2023
Speaking of his journey, Rasic talked about the discipline he introduced to a relatively amateur Socceroos team heading to the World Cup. "I introduced a discipline that you had never, ever experienced. No coach had ever has gone to the hotel three months before the team had come into camp," Rasic said in an Optus Sport documentary.
At the time of coaching Australia in the World Cup, Rasic led the way with his determination that inspired a nation. "Australia will show, definitely 100 per cent, determination and a will to win. Many teams are trying to build this up, we have that in out team, in-built already," he said. Rasic became an Australian citizen and said he was proud of his decision and would be "till I am gone". He described the decision as 'the greatest privilege in the world'.
Football greats mourn Rale Rasic's death
The Aussie football world was left saddened to hear of Rasic's death. Craig Foster and Mark Bosnich led the tributes for one of Australian football's pioneers.
— Craig Foster (@Craig_Foster) June 8, 2023
Just woke to the very sad news of Rale Rasic passing..the first manager to take the Socceroos to a World Cup in 1974…RIP..xmb pic.twitter.com/ZTWzD0nl2r
— Mark Bosnich (@TheRealBozza) June 8, 2023
Rale Rasic's passion for Australia - not just its symbols but our way of life - made him the best kind of national patriot.
His mission to connect the world of football to the nation's soul was lifelong, yet he'll always be remembered for one incredible moment: 1974.
Vale Rale. pic.twitter.com/LotXrYcrfY
— Sebastian Hassett (@sebth) June 8, 2023
Shattering news. The legend, the icon Rale Rasic passed away this morning. I’m shattered. He was more than a coach to me. He was a mate, a bloody good mate.
— Ray Gatt (@Gatty54) June 8, 2023
Rasic coached a long list of teams in Australian football, from St George to Marconi, Adelaide City, Pan Hellenic among others, always winning trophies and spreading his football philosophy around the country.
He also had a hand in the foundations for the Australian Institute of Sport, taking part in the feasibility study group that created the AIS. Always an absorbing after-dinner speaker, he was famous for turning his allotted 20-minutes into a 40-minute speech, but always kept the audience absorbed and entertained.
Rasic was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1989, and in 2001, he was awarded the Australian Sports Medal and the Centenary Medal for "services to soccer" and in 2004 the Medal of the Order of Australia for "service to soccer as a player, coach and administrator."
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