Azerbaijan battled back from a two-goal deficit for a surprise point in their UEFA EURO 2004™ qualifying match against the newly named Serbia and Montenegro in Podgorica today.
In the first full international since the change of the country's name from Yugoslavia earlier this week, coach Dejan Savicevic was hoping for a win to close the gap on Group 9 leaders Wales to just two points. Victory would also have taken his team three points clear of third-placed Italy but a second-half double from Gurban Gurbanov dashed those hopes.
Things appeared to be going to plan in the early stages when Predrag Mijatovic converted a 34th-minute penalty after Nikola Lazetic had been brought down in the area. However, the Azerbaijani team were in determined mood, despite missing four regular starters following a dispute between their clubs and the Association of Football Federations of Azerbaijan, and made it to half-time without conceding again.
Yet the Serbo-Montenegrin side started the second half brightly and soon doubled their advantage. Influential midfield player Lazetic, who signed for S.S. Lazio at the end of last month, broke through on the right and made it 2-0 in the 52nd minute. Yet Asgar Abdullayev's men refused to accept defeat and cut the deficit when Gurbanov made the most of hesitancy in the Serbo-Montenegrin defence to find the net seven minutes later.
With 12 minutes to play, Gurbanov stunned the 8,000-strong crowd by scoring his second of the night after robbing Nenad Djordjevic of possession. The visitors hung on until the end to claim their first point in four Group 9 qualifiers although they still remain rooted to the bottom of the table. The result means Wales now have a four-point cushion before the group’s next matches on 29 March when the Welsh welcome the Azeris and Finland travel to Italy.