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Last Updated: Saturday, 4 September, 2004, 17:54 GMT 18:54 UK
Azerbaijan 1-1 Wales
WORLD CUP QUALIFYING GRP 6
Gary Speed scored the opening goal
Wales' World Cup qualifying campaign had a disappointing start as they allowed group minnows Azerbaijan to fight back to claim a draw in Baku.

Gary Speed set Wales on their way on 47 minutes, pouncing onto a John Hartson head-down to hit in a sweet left-foot volley past Dmitriy Kramarenko.

But Rashid Sadikhov stunned the visitors with a blistering 40-yard free kick that was too much for Paul Jones.

Rob Earnshaw's late diving header was clawed onto the post by Kramarenko.

It was a composed start by the visitors who succeeded in winning a number of set pieces deep in the Azeri half.

The pre-game plan to test the home side's suspect aerial defence was spoilt, though, as Wales failed to deliver any meaningful crosses.

I wasn't happy with the way we played, especially in the first half
Wales manager Mark Hughes
As Azerbaijan worked their way into the game there were some worrying wobbles in the reorganised Welsh defence, where regular centre-back Danny Gabbidon had been switched to cover the problem left-back spot.

Anatoliy Ponomarev was causing most problems, and when a poor Sadikhov free kick fell to him in the box he managed to turn under pressure from Gabbidon, getting in a dangerous shot that went just over the bar.

Wales' best chance of the first half came on 38 minutes as the Azeri failed to clear a long throw into the box.

It fell to Hartson, but Kramarenko blocked the big striker's shot with his legs.

Danny Gabbidon
Gabbidon was switched to left back
Wales opened the second half with an adventurous run down the left by Gabbidon.

His cross was cleared as far as Jason Koumas, who chipped back into the box where Hartson won the header, Speed arriving quickly from midfield to lash the ball into the corner of the net.

It was the Wales captain's third goal in as many games against the Azeri, having scored in each of the Euro 2004 qualifiers.

Mark Hughes' team relaxed and saw little danger as Sadikhov lined up his long free kick, but the Neftchi defender let fly with a vicious, swerving strike.

It arrived at a comfortable height, and Jones got two hands to it, but he could only parry into the net.

Moments later Wales were fortunate not to slip behind when Ponomarev's trickery in the box allowed him to get in a shot that was well saved by Jones.

Wales' final ball continued to let them down, but a well-placed, 71st-minute Robbie Savage free kick deflected wildly off Emin Agaev, only to land in the keeper's hands.

Gabbidon tried hard down the left, but Wales' efforts were lacklustre until Earnshaw arrived as an 87th-minute replacement for Koumas.

With a minute left, John Oster crossed from the right and Earnshaw launched himself into a header that was desperately knocked away by the home keeper.

Hughes' team must lift themselves for Wednesday's visit of Northern Ireland, who suffered a 3-0 loss to Poland in their opening game.


Azerbaijan: Kramarenko, Sadikhov, Hajiyev, Agaev, Shukurov, Makhmud Gurbanov, Huseynov (Agil Mamedov 72), Ponomarev (Ilgar Gurbanov 84), Gurban Gurbanov, Aliyev (Nabiev 70), Kasimov.
Subs Not Used: Mekhtiev, Sultanov, Amirbekov, Tagizade.

Booked: Hajiyev, Aliyev.

Goals: Sadikhov 56.

Wales: Jones, Delaney, Melville, Page, Gabbidon, Koumas (Earnshaw 88), Savage, Speed, Pembridge (Oster 45), Bellamy, Hartson.
Subs Not Used: Collins, Crossley, Roberts, Johnson, Taylor.

Booked: Delaney.

Goals: Speed 48.

Att: 15,000

Referee: Edo Trivkovic (Croatia)






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