Zvonimir ‘Rale’ Rasic, the first coach to guide Australia to the FIFA World Cup, passed away earlier this morning, aged 87. A pioneer of football in Australia and true advocate for the world game, Rasic leaves an indelible footprint on the game, the foundations of which were laid upon his formative years in Victoria.
Bosnian born Rale Rasic arrived in Melbourne in June 1962, forging a fruitful partnership with Footscray JUST that would begin as a player and conclude as a coach. His first full season with the club yielded the ultimate success, as JUST claimed their second League championship in 1963 with a final day victory over George Cross. A win in the Dockerty Cup followed to complete an impressive double, with an enthralling 4-2 triumph over Maribyrnong-Polonia in the final.
JUST were second on the Championship table midway through 1964 before Rasic returned to Yugoslavia to complete his national service and a university degree in physical education. With his obligations met, he resumed his love affair with JUST, helping them win the Ampol Cup in 1966 with a 3-2 win over South Melbourne in another thrilling final at Olympic Park. It would prove to be his final piece of silverware as a player.
By 1967 and not long after his 31st birthday, Rasic would begin his career as a Coach, taking the reins at Footscray JUST in a period which would predicate the success he would later enjoy, winning the League with the slenderest of margins ahead of Juventus and Ringwood Wilhelmina in 1969. He moved to the struggling Melbourne Hungaria the following season, almost guiding them to the Championship as they finished runners-up to Juventus.
Rasic’s successful coaching exploits at club level impressed the Victorian Soccer Federation, and he was appointed the coach of the Victorian Senior Men’s state team, assuming the helm from John Barclay in June 1969, recording a 1-0 win over South Australia on debut. An impressive scoreless draw against Greece followed in August, a team which included Jack Reilly, Doug Utjesenovic Jimmy Rooney and Branko Buljevic, all of whom would feature under his tutelage at the 1974 World Cup. In all, Rasic would coach Victoria on twelve occasions, with strong performances against German opposition in Hertha 03 (1-1) and Werder Bremen (1-2) in 1970.
Rasic was an advocate for education, so it would come as no surprise that his greatest success in Victoria was in junior development. He led the Victorian Under 16 state team to the National title in 1970 and was responsible for the creation of an Under 23 state squad, a visionary move given the development pathway which would be formed some two decades later.
Rale Rasic was ultimately appointed the Head Coach of Australia at the age of 34, a mere eight years after arriving in Melbourne. He would lead Australia through a gruelling campaign, unbeaten in home-and-away ties against New Zealand, Indonesia and Iraq, before eliminating Iran (3-2 on aggregate) and ultimately South Korea in a third playoff match in Hong Kong to achieve qualification. Australia’s classification of 14th in West Germany remained our greatest achievement at a FIFA Men’s World Cup until Graham Arnold’s team bettered the result in Qatar last November.
Among Rasic’s many achievements, he would claim National Soccer League Coach of the Year awards with Marconi (1977) and APIA Leichhardt (1987). He remains the only Football Coach inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame (1989) and was a member of the inaugural induction into the Football Australia Hall of Fame in 1999. Rasic also received the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in 2004.
Rale Rasic leaves an ever-lasting legacy on Australian football.
Rasic is survived by his partner Debra and daughter Daniella.
The FV Board of Directors, Executive and staff send our sincere condolences to the Rasic family.