21 March 2019 – Croatia has opened their EURO 2020 qualifying campaign with a 2-1 win against Azerbaijan in Zagreb.
Croatia came from behind to claim all three points thanks to goals either side of the break in front of 23,000 fans at Maksimir stadium.
Zlatko Dalić handed a debut to Dinamo Zagreb striker Bruno Petković, whilst Josip Brekalo started at right-back and Mateo Kovačić, playing in his 50th match for Croatia, started in place of Marcelo Brozović, who was still nursing an injury in the midfield.
Croatia started the match with all the possession early on, but it was Azerbaijan’s striker Sheydaev who had the first real chance but Love Kalinić was up to the task and made an important save.
Azerbaijan would take the lead in the 19th minute against the run of play when Sheydaev broke free after Kovačić lost possession. This time his shot would beat Kalinić to find the back of the net to give the visitors the lead.
Croatia would continue to attack with Modrić coming close with a long-range effort and a header before Andrej Kramarić had a header cleared off the line in the 36th minute.
The equaliser would finally come just a minute before the break when Borna Barišić banged in from a yard out after a goal line scramble following a corner.
Croatia maintained the pressure early in the second spell with Kramarić denied by Agayev and Modrić coming close with a free kick. Brekalo, who was impressive in his unaccustomed postition at right-back, had two efforts on goal which were well saved.
Croatia finally took the lead with 11 minutes remaining when the in-form Kramarić curled into the bottom right-hand corner from just inside the box.
For Croatia, Modrić was once again a standout on the night, whilst Brekalo and Petković on debut also impressed.
Croatia travels to Budapest for their next group match against Hungary on Sunday, 24 March.
“We spoke with Brekalo back in January about him playing right-back. This was not an experiment, and today he was one of the best players on the pitch. I was also happy with Vlašić who came on, I want the young, potential players to bring us another dimension,” Dalić said after the match, adding he was happy with the three points and how paitent his side was when chasing the victory.
CROATIA 2-1 AZERBAIJAN
EURO 2020 qualifier, Group E
Maksimir stadium, Zagreb
GOALS: Sheydaev 19’, Barišić 44’, Kramarić 79′
CROATIA: Kalinić – Brekalo, Vida, Ćaleta-Car, Barišić – Modrić (Badelj 90′), Kovačić (Vlašić 73′), Rakitić – Perišić, Petković (Rebić 68′), Kramarić – COACH: Zlatko Dalić
AZERBAIJAN: Agajev – Medvedev, Mammadov, Hüsejnov, Rahimov – Garajev – Madatov, Eddy, Almeida (Makhmudov 73′), Nazarov (Abdullayev 58′) – Sheydaev – COACH: Nikola Jurčević