Belfast Telegraph

Prosinecki ready to move on if NI end World dream


By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland could end the reign of Robert Prosinecki as Azerbaijan manager if they win tomorrow night's World Cup qualifier in Baku.

Turkish club Bursaspor are keen to recruit Prosinecki as their new coach and speculation is rife that if Azerbaijan lose tomorrow he will opt to return to club football, knowing there would be little chance of guiding his current side to next year's finals in Russia.

Northern Ireland enter the vital Group C clash in second place, three points clear of Azerbaijan who are in fourth. Victory for Michael O'Neill's team would put clear daylight between them and Prosinecki's men in the race for a play-off spot, with World Champions Germany destined to finish top of the group and qualify automatically.

Former Real Madrid and Barcelona midfielder Prosinecki has spoken about 'surprising' and having 'a recipe to play' Northern Ireland, but much of the build-up in Baku has related to his future rather than his tactics.

Counterpart O'Neill, a shrewd customer, will be aiming to take advantage of any uncertainty which exists in the Azerbaijan squad.

Bursaspor have just finished a disappointing 14th in the Turkish SuperLig and chairman Ali Ay has been quoted as saying that Prosinecki, who first came to prominence as a composed and confident midfielder with Red Star Belgrade, is very much in his thoughts.

Prosinecki's agent, Yashar Chalishir, perhaps gave an indication into the Azerbaijan manager's thinking when he said: "Bursaspor want Prosinecki. I think the Northern Ireland game is important for Prosinecki because if Azerbaijan lost, the chance to go to the World Cup will be finished."

The ex-Yugoslavian and Croatian international took over as Azerbaijan boss in 2014, replacing Bertie Vogts.

In the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign he inspired his players to make a fantastic start with two wins and a draw in their opening three games. Then came a trip to Windsor Park in November when they were blown away 4-0 by O'Neill's Euro 2016 heroes.

A 4-1 home defeat to Germany followed. A third defeat in a row in Group C would wreck any qualification dreams.

Since the hammering in Belfast, Prosinecki has been trying to come up with a plan to exact some revenge on O'Neill's men.

"We lost in Belfast but we will do better in Baku. I have prepared a surprise for Northern Ireland but I cannot say what it is. I have found a recipe to play Northern Ireland and it will be an interesting match.

"Northern Ireland are the best team in the group after Germany. Their players play in the top league in Europe - the Premier League.

Prosinecki outlined his belief that Northern Ireland will play a different formation to the 3-5-2 on show during the friendly win over New Zealand on Friday night. He also spoke about the importance of Azerbaijan avoiding giving away corners and free-kicks, adding that it was key that his side used their 'technique'.

Belfast Telegraph


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