BAKU, 9 September 2019 – Azerbaijan have come from behind to share the points with Croatia in their EURO 2020 qualifier in Baku tonight.
Croatia would rue their chances which they created in the first half as Azerbaijan, led by Croatian Nikola Jurcevic, would snatch a equaliser.
Coach Zlatko Dalic made no changes from the side that beat Slovakia 4-0 on Friday and from the outset Croatia took control of possession. The visitors would create the first chance of the match in just the 5th minute when captain Luka Modric had his shot from just outside the box saved by Balajev in the Azerbaijan goal.
Four minutes later Croatia were awarded a penalty when Krivotsjuk handled inside the box. Modric, on his 34th birthday, stepped up and calmly slotted home from the spot to give his side a 1-0 lead.
Ante Rebic almost doubled the lead a minute later when he was put through inside the box with just the keeper the beat, but Balajev would save well with his feet. Moments later it was Rebic again with a golden chance but Balajev would deny the AC Milan attacker.
The Azerbaijan keeper was a busy man and he was called in to action again in the 24th minute, this time he would make a great save to deny an excellent long-range effort from Vlasic.
Azerbaijan had their first real chance in the 32nd minute when Shejdajev broke free, but a great save with his feet from Dominik Livakovic kept Croatia in front. Both sides would have half-chances towards the end of the half but Croatia would go into the break 1-0 up.
Azerbaijan done well at the start of the second half to shut down the space and time Croatian players had on the ball, forcing errors in the process. They also looked threatening on the counter-attack. It would be Croatia, however, on the counter-attack who would create a chance through Petkovic in the 60th minute, but his shot would go just wide.
Azerbaijan were starting to look more dangerous going forward and they would get an equaliser in the 72nd minute when Khalilzada went on a solo run, beating Brozovic and Lovren before finishing past Livakovic.
Dalic brought on Josip Brekalo and Mislav Orsic as Croatia searched for a winner, but there would be no way through as Azerbaijan fought hard, getting men behind the ball and scrapping in defence.
“We started well, scored and then created some chances which their keeper saved. They equalised and that is just the way it is. I said at halftime that we must be aware, but we failed to create any real chances in the second half and conceded an easy goal,” coach Dalic said after the match, before adding.
“Maybe I should have reacted earlier with substitutions and close up the midfield. We need to secure 15 points, when we achieve them it does not matter. We had a chance today but we blew it.”
Croatia has 10 points, one ahead of Hungary who have 9 but a game in hand. Slovakia are third with 6 points. Croatia faces Hungary next at Poljud stadium in Split on 10 October. A win there would almost seal Croatia’s spot at EURO 2020.
“We started very well and then had two-three clear chances which we could not convert. We will not make a drama out of it. If we scored to make it 2.0 it could have been different but we gifted them a point. Thanks to the fans,” said defender Domagoj Vida after the match.
AZERBAIJAN 1-1 CROATIA
EURO 2020 qualifier, Group E
GOALS: Modric (pen) 11’, Khalilzada 72′
CROATIA: Livakovic – Bartolec (Brekalo 76′), Lovren, Vida, Barisic – Modric (c), Brozovic – Perisic, Vlasic, Rebic (Orsic 86′) – Petkovic
AZERBAIJAN: Balajev – Pashajev, Medvedev (c), Mustafazade, Krivotsjuk – Garajev, Husejnov – Emreli, Nazarov, Rahimov – Shejdajev