September 4, 2015 / 8:48 AM / 2 years ago

Soccer-Azerbaijan's Prosinecki buoyed by draw with native Croatia

Sept 4 (Reuters) - Azerbaijan's Croatian coach Robert Prosinecki saw a goalless Euro 2016 qualifying draw against his compatriots as a major step forward in his team's bid to improve.

The Azeris stifled out the visitors with a packed defence and former Croatia midfielder Prosinecki, who helped his country to a third-place finish in the 1998 World Cup, was pleased with the effort.

"We held one of the best national teams in Europe whose players ply their trade for the continent's top clubs, so we have to take a lot of positives from this game," Prosinecki told reporters.

"It is just reward for our hard work and also a major confidence boost as it shows that we are moving in the right direction."

The result stretched Prosinecki's unbeaten run as Azerbaijan coach to three games after a 2-0 home win over Malta and a 0-0 draw in Norway.

Fifth in Group H, Azerbaijan have no chance of reaching next year's tournament in France but the outcome has piled the pressure on the Croatians, whose next game is away to Norway on Sunday.

Captain Luka Modric acknowledged his team paid the price for a tepid performance, lacking creativity in midfield and bite up front, while he also hinted he was unhappy with being substituted midway through the second half.

"I am disappointed because we failed to get the job done and it's definitely a poor result," said the Real Madrid playmaker, who made way for Marcelo Brozovic.

"I don't know why I was substituted, it's a question for the coach. It will be an even tougher match in Norway but I am confident we can produce a better performance."

Croatia, who have had one point deducted after their fans carved out a swastika on the pitch ahead of their 1-1 home draw with Italy in June, are second in Group H with 14 points, one behind leaders Italy.

Third-placed Norway have 13 points and a chance to leapfrog the Croatians, with the top two from each of the nine groups securing automatic berths in the finals.

The eight best third-placed teams will enter a two-legged playoff for the remaining four berths in the 24-nation tournament, with hosts France qualifying automatically. (Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic in Belgrade; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

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