Croatia took on Azerbaijan in Baku on Monday evening, as part of their UEFA EURO 2020 qualification campaign.
Starting with the same eleven that began the impressive victory away win against Slovakia just days earlier, one would think they would play with a similar intensity they showed there.
Early on, that seemed to be the case, as the Vatreni relentlessly attacked their opposition’s goal. After ten minutes, that hard work was rewarded, with an Azeri handball inside the hosts’ own area, penalty!
Captain Luka Modrić stepped up and calmly converted the spot kick, giving himself a present on his 34th birthday and a 1-0 lead to his team.
As the first half went on, the Croatians did the very thing I and certainly many other commentators had warned against. They started taking their lead and the victory they assumed would eventually result from it for granted.
Instead of looking for a second and eventually for a third and decisive goal, they gifted Azerbaijan a way back into the match.
Only offside positions prevented the home side from equalizing in that opening half, or in fact early in the second. As it turned out, Croatia’s 1-0 lead somehow survived until the 72nd minute, when Tamkin Khalilzade finished a nice attacking move to make it 1-1. Croatia ended up lucky that the result did not get worse after that.
The draw, together with a Slovak victory in Hungary later that day, puts Croatia on top of the group, just a point ahead of both Slovakia and the Magyars. Meanwhile, Wales is four points behind the top, with a game in hand, and Azerbaijan has taken its first point of the campaign.
That puts the Vatreni in a less-than comfortable position for the rest of the campaign, but the unnecessary problems are all of their own making.