2014 FIFA World Cup
Previous Clubs: Red Bull Salzburg (youth team and assistant), Croatia under-21s
Having missed Croatia's finest international performance through injury -- a third-place finish at the 1998 World Cup -- Niko Kovac will be hoping to lead the Vatreni to similar heights in Brazil after taking over as coach in October 2013.
The 42-year-old, who scored 14 goals in 83 international appearances as a box-to-box midfielder, took over from Igor Stimac just three weeks before Croatia's crucial 2014 World Cup playoff against Iceland but adapted quickly to send them through to their fourth World Cup finals, courtesy of a 2-0 aggregate victory.
Kovac goes into this summer's tournament as the second shortest-serving of the World Cup coaches -- behind Mexico's Miguel Herrera -- but he is a familiar face around the Croatian training camp, having taken charge of the Balkan nation's under-21 side in January 2013.
While he ultimately lacks coaching experience, Kovac will not be fazed by the task at hand and knows what is at stake having featured in two World Cups (2002 and 2006). The tough-tackling midfielder also spent more than a decade in the Bundesliga, though began his professional career in the division below for Hertha Berlin in 1992.
Earning a move to Bayer Leverkusen in 1996, Kovac was quickly making a name for himself as one of Croatia's hottest prospects though it was not until he was 25 that he won his first international cap in a friendly against Morocco. Honours also eluded Kovac in his early years as he twice finished as a Bundesliga runner-up with Leverkusen before sealing a transfer to Hamburg in 1999.
A return of 12 goals in 55 Bundesliga appearances for Hamburg earned him a move in 2001 to Bayern Munich, where Kovac won the league title, DFB-Pokal and Intercontinental Cup -- though he struggled to hold down a regular first-team berth.
Returning to Hertha for another three-year spell, the former Croatia captain finally ended his playing days in 2009 at Red Bull Salzburg in Austria, where he claimed a second league title. A popular figure in the dressing room, Kovac was duly appointed as the club's reserve team coach before later becoming assistant to first-team coach Ricardo Moniz. However, Kovac left the club in the summer of 2012 after he was overlooked for the main job after Moniz's resignation.
Playing under the likes of Ottmar Hitzfeld, Christoph Daum and Huub Stevens, Kovac had accumulated a wealth of knowledge, as well as an extensive range of coaching skills and methods - so it was no surprise to see the Croatian FA come calling in January 2013.
A leader on the field, Kovac will now need to transfer those skills to the dugout when he takes control of a talented Croatian side in Group A at the World Cup, alongside Brazil, Mexico and Cameroon. Currently the seventh-highest appearance holder in the Balkan nation's history, Kovac will provide strong motivation in the dressing room. While Croatia are hardly expected to contest the World Cup trophy, Kovac will be hoping to prove himself by taking the Vatreni into the knockout rounds for the first time since that fabled bronze medal in France 16 years ago.
Strengths: A true Croatian great, Kovac has the respect of the dressing room and is a popular figure among the players. He has a good knowledge of the country's youth set-up, having worked as the U21 coach.
Weaknesses: Kovac is largely untested as a manager and it remains to be seen whether he has the personality and tactical nous required to be a successful coach. His appointment has been regarded as a huge gamble by some fans.
Career high: Kovac remained unbeaten in his first eight games of international management, winning six and drawing two.
Career low: Missing Croatia's famous 1998 World Cup campaign through injury.
Tactics: Kovac utilised a 4-2-3-1 formation in his first three games for Croatia but it remains to be seen whether he will instruct his team to play the same way at the World Cup.
Quotes: "He became a coach very young, after being a successful captain for many years. He doesn't have to be afraid, he only needs to be diligent in his work. I'm not afraid for Niko, he himself has that Germanic persistence that was never taught in the field. Advice? He must be exactly as he was as a player: unbreakable and sturdy." Legendary Italian coach Giovanni Trapattoni believes that Kovac has all the qualities to be a successful coach.
Trivia: His younger brother Robert is his assistant. The two played together at Leverkusen and Bayern before Niko's return to Hertha Berlin in 2003.
Words: Max Bentley