MIAMI, Florida – When it comes to making history in Concacaf, there are few who can rival the successes of Bora Milutinovic.
The Serbia-born manager for years was a staple in the region serving as Head Coach for five different Concacaf nations: Mexico, Costa Rica, United States, Honduras and Jamaica.
In particular, his spells with Mexico, Costa Rica and the U.S. stand out for what he achieved, including winning the inaugural Concacaf Gold Cup in 1991 with the U.S.
“It was a great pleasure to work for the U.S. We won in the semifinals against Mexico with goals from [Peter] Vermes and [John] Doyle and in the final we won against an excellent Honduras team in penalty kicks with some incredible saves from [GK Tony] Meola. I was so happy. The first ever Gold Cup, we win it, so it was a big pleasure for me and for all the players. We had great players with an excellent mentality and without any preparation for this tournament since we did not play any friendlies,” said Milutinovic in an exclusive interview with Concacaf.com.
Suffice to say, Milutinovic admires the evolution of the Gold Cup but still recalls with great fondness his title-winning teams in 1991 with the U.S. and with Mexico in 1996.
“In the first tournament only eight teams participated, but it is different today. Now we have teams with great promotion and other teams from Concacaf that have their fan bases. It’s a very interesting tournament. I am happy because I have been lucky because I won a Gold Cup with Mexico in 1996, so I am a two-time Gold Cup champion.
“The first games in 1991 there was not as much promotion, not as many fans, but the final that we played against Brazil [in the 1996 Gold Cup with Mexico], it was a sold-out stadium and we won 2-0 with goals from Luis Garcia and Cuauhtemoc Blanco. In 1991 Mexico was the big favorite and that was a big surprise because everyone thought that Mexico would be champion, so that was the start of a brilliant era of football for the United States,” said Milutinovic.
The U.S. winning the 1991 Gold Cup laid the foundation for the team’s memorable campaign in the 1994 FIFA World Cup in which the U.S. played on home soil.
“It was wonderful because the majority of the players in the national team were students. There was no league, but there was a great determination, players with a great mentality, which made me so happy for all the people that worked in football there in the U.S.,” said Milutinovic.
Another of Milutinovic’s great triumphs was leading Costa Rica to a first ever World Cup appearance at Italy 1990. In every way the Ticos surpassed expectations by winning two of three group stage matches to reach the knockout round, with their lone group stage defeat a narrow 1-0 final to giants Brazil.
“The debut of Costa Rica in the World Cup was historic because Costa Rica was not only the only team to debut in a World Cup with a win, but also won two games in the group stage. It made for a magical experience. It was impressive and there are things that one can’t just forget, like that Brazil game. Although we lost, we played a match in which we went toe-to-toe against a great team like Brazil. The Costa Rica players were players without World Cup experience, but very intelligent and committed to the Costa Rica National Team shirt and so that was something that makes me happy when I think about those boys who achieved something incredible. It was a dream summer,” said Milutinovic.
Not only was Milutinovic at the helm of the host nation at USA 1994, but also at Mexico 1986, when he guided Mexico to their last World Cup quarterfinal appearance. For the Serbian boss, competing in a World Cup in front of the home fans is a feeling unlike any other.
“The expectations are enormous, but we’re also aware that the national teams that I managed had not had successful World Cups, so I was lucky that things went differently and that the Mexico and U.S. fans could enjoy. There is support from the fans when they see that they players are giving it their all, so in this case the players gave everything and so did the fans and it made for a great kinship,” said Milutinovic.
Milutinovic has been a part of many important and history-making matches involving Concacaf teams, but the World Cup games are the ones that hold a special place in his heart.
“All of the World Cup games are special. With the U.S., I would say that the first game that we played against Switzerland. We played to a draw in the Detroit Silverdome and the goal that [Eric] Wynalda scored was incredible. It was unforgettable, a full stadium, maybe the best free kick goal of that World Cup. Also beating Colombia which was a big favorite in front of a full stadium in Pasadena. Those are things that can never forget. For me it was an honor to be a part of those three teams that achieved noteworthy results and that is something that one will never forget,” concluded Milutinovic.