BAKU (Reuters) – Croatia missed a chance to go three points clear at the top of Euro 2020 qualifying Group E after a stunning goal by halftime substitute Tamkin Khalilzade earned Azerbaijan a 1-1 home draw with the 2018 World Cup runners-up on Monday.
The result provisionally left Croatia in pole position on 10 points from five games, one ahead of second-placed Hungary who have played four and were at home to Slovakia later on Monday.
Wales and Slovakia have six points each from four games and Azerbaijan are on one point from five matches.
The Croatians took an 11-minute lead thanks to a Luka Modric penalty after Anton Krivotsyuk handled the ball but were left to rue missing a hatful of chances before Khalilzade equalised with a solo effort.
The forward weaved his way past three defenders after cutting in from the left flank and beat goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic with a fine shot from eight metres.
Home keeper Emil Balayev twice denied Nikola Vlasic and also kept out a pair of Ante Rebic sitters in the first half, while Azerbaijan had two goals correctly ruled out for offside in an action-packed encounter.
Bruno Petkovic dragged his shot wide from a good position on the hour and Croatia paid the price for their profligacy as static defending allowed Khalilzade to delight the home fans in the 72nd minute.
It was a disappointing setback for Croatia, whose new-look team romped to an impressive 4-0 win in Slovakia on Friday while it gave Azerbaijan’s Croatian coach Nikola Jurcevic some breathing space after a poor start.
(Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic; Editing by Pritha Sarkar)