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Azerbaijan boss Prosinecki wants to keep on springing surprises


Rashad Sadygov will miss out against Northern Ireland due to a knee problem

Rashad Sadygov will miss out against Northern Ireland due to a knee problem

Rashad Sadygov will miss out against Northern Ireland due to a knee problem

Azerbaijan will be missing their captain and 104-cap international Rashad Sadygov against Northern Ireland as Robert Prosinecki's surprise package aim to continue causing upsets.

The Azeris currently hold second place in Group C of the World Cup qualifiers, behind the Germans but ahead of Northern Ireland, Norway and the Czech Republic, having taken seven points from an opening three games in which they have not conceded.

Having never qualified for a major tournament, their early campaign form under ex-Portsmouth midfielder Prosinecki's guidance has the manager of their next opponents considering them a legitimate threat to their quest to finish second, which may secure a play-off berth.

They will be without Qarabag defender Saygov in Belfast, though, after a consultant in London decided he was not ready to return from a knee problem as Prosinecki tries to show the rest of the continent their story is not one dependant on luck.

"I believe we have a good team with good players and I think we have surprised a lot of people in European football," said Prosinecki, one of just 33 players to have played for both Real Madrid and Barcelona.

"We are a good team and we want to show it's not just luck, that we have good players. We are 100 per cent motivated, we might lose tomorrow but our players will give 100 per cent and be able to say they have given everything they could."

Northern Irish boss Michael O'Neill had stated he thought there were ways his team could exploit a defence yet to be breached in 270 minutes.

One of those may be at set-pieces, an element of Northern Ireland's game that has been strengthened by Chris Brunt's return from injury, though Prosinecki is not concerned about their inferior height when it comes to dead-ball situations.

"The Azerbaijan players are a bit smaller, but you can't pull them, they're not elastic," the Croatian added, complete with actions.

"We work with what we've got. We have other qualities that are perhaps superior to the Northern Ireland players, technique and so on.

"We have got a few tactics to try and cancel out Northern Ireland's ability in the air. I don't see it as a big problem but there are ways we can cancel out the Northern Ireland threat. The team is physically strong and fit."