Wednesday 25 April 2018

Azerbaijan focus

Qarabag's Richard Almeida has recently been approved to represent Azerbaijan
Qarabag's Richard Almeida has recently been approved to represent Azerbaijan

Northern Ireland's World Cup qualification campaign continues on Saturday in baking Baku against an Azerbaijan team they thrashed just seven months ago.

Michael O'Neill's side ran out 4-0 winners over the then-unbeaten Azeris in Belfast last November, though they have travelled east this week without eight players they took to last summer's Euros, and to a city where the temperature is more than 30 degrees Celsius.

Here Press Association Sport runs the rule over Northern Ireland's next opponents.


Having started the qualification campaign by picking up seven points in contests with San Marino, Norway and the Czech Republic, the Azeris have since lost 4-0 to Northern Ireland and 4-1 to Germany. However, they are still just three points off second place and remain the only country to score against the Germans in these qualifiers. When Northern Ireland last visited Baku under O'Neill, the hosts emerged as 2-0 victors in 2013 on a night when Jonny Evans was dismissed late on.


A post previously held by World Cup winners Carlos Alberto and Berti Vogts is currently occupied by former Real Madrid and Barcelona midfielder Robert Prosinecki. The Croat is one of just 33 players to represent both sides of the El Clasico rivalry and he also enjoyed a memorable season in English football's second tier with Portsmouth. He was then the assistant to Slaven Bilic on the night Croatia prevented England from qualifying for Euro 2008 and was in charge of Red Star Belgrade and Kayserispor prior to getting the Azerbaijan gig in 2014.


As several members of O'Neill's squad have pointed out in the build up, Azerbaijan actually enjoyed more possession than the Northern Irish back in Belfast despite the hammering they took. The issue then was at dead-ball situations, with three of the goals originating from those scenarios and Prosinecki insisting there was little he could do about his under-sized players because "they're not elastic". Prosinecki is convinced his side have the technical qualities to go toe-to-toe with O'Neill's outfit, yet they could come unstuck again if they cannot solve their issue at set-pieces.


Prosinecki's team could feature three players who were not available to him in the return fixture at Windsor Park. Skipper Rashad Sadygov, the country's most capped player with more than 100 appearances, is available again following injury while attacking options Richard Almeida and Renat Dadashov have only recently come into consideration. Brazilian-born Almeida plays for Qarabag and has only recently been naturalised while teenager Dadashov represented Germany at youth levels and scored three times for Die Mannschaft at last summer's Under-17s Euros before switching allegiance.

Press Association

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