The national team of Croatia began its qualifying campaign for UEFA Euro 2020 on Thursday evening at home against Azerbaijan. It was far from the easy start that the runners-up of World Cup 2018 had hoped for.
The remade “Vatreni” squad had suffered numerous injuries prior to the international camp, particularly at the defensive end. This forced VfL Wolfsburg winger Josip Brekalo to play right-back, which was only the most extreme example of improvisation that was required from coach Zlatko Dalić.
Beyond that, they faced a disciplined opponent, coached by the Croatian-born Nikola Jurćević who is of course fully aware of his home national team’s problems historically with going up against lesser opposition in qualifying for major tournaments.
The home side’s approach to the game early on was passing play, while that of the visitors was a courageous direct style. Azerbaijan created the first two real scoring chances of the match.
The second one of those was converted by Ramil Sheydaev to give the underdogs the shocking 1-0 lead before the twenty-minute mark.
It took Croatia a long time to recover from that setback. The best that they could do for most of the first half was to earn numerous corner kicks for themselves.
Just before the break, Glasgow Rangers defender Borna Barišić equalized after a period of total domination from the home side.
In the second stanza, Croatia dominated their opponents overwhelmingly and created chances as well, but the ball did not seem to want to go into the back of the net.
Time was on the side of the away team with every minute that passed with the score still level.
It was not until eleven minutes from time, that Andrej Kramarić finally scored the 2-1 winner. The victory was important, but with Hungary, Wales and Slovakia as the other opponents in the group, Zlatko Dalić’s team knows that they have to improve.