Last in their qualifying groups for the 2002 and 2006 FIFA World Cups™, Azerbaijan made a modicum of progress when they finished second bottom on the road to South Africa 2010, the side coming in ahead of Liechtenstein thanks to a 2-0 win away against their rivals. They then reached even higher during the qualifiers for Brazil 2014, leaving Northern Ireland and Luxemburg in their wake as they finished fourth.
The stewardship of Berti Vogts between 2008 and 2014 proved telling as Azerbaijan made significant strides during the German coach's reign, not least in terms of discipline. Solid at the back, where Rashad Sadygov and Mahir Shukurov are both reliable performers, Azerbaijan are no longer whipping boys for Europe's traditional powers, but they need to replicate that same efficiency further forward. Indeed, top scorer Vagif Javadov began the qualifying campaign for Russia 2018 still in single figures for international goals.
Azerbaijan were keen for a big name to replace Vogts and they found the perfect candidate in Robert Prosinecki, the talented former playmaker who turned out for both Barcelona and Real Madrid after winning the UEFA Champions League with Red Star Belgrade. An international for Yugoslavia and later Croatia, with whom he collected a bronze medal at France 1998, Prosinecki took up his post after previous coaching stints with Red Star and Kayserispor.
4 – Azerbaijan's fourth-place finish during the preliminaries for Brazil 2014 was their best ever qualifying performance, either in a World Cup or UEFA European Championship.
The former stars
Gurban Gurbanov, Anatoliy Banishevskiy, Alakbar Mammadov