10th October 2013
Group H leaders England face a must-win game as they host Montenegro in the crucial 2014 World Cup qualifier, while looking to record the first triumph over a top 4 side in the qualifying campaign. Their opponents arrive at Wembley severely weakened, but determined to give their all in what is without a doubt the biggest match in the national team’s history.
Many believed that England would ease off to World Cup qualification following some promising displays at the Euro 2012, but the Three Lions were not exactly able to live up to the expectations. While impressing against Moldova and San Marino, the two weakest sides in the group, Roy Hodgson’s men recorded four draws in as many matches against Montenegro, Ukraine and Poland, their rivals for the top two places in the group. And while England go into the final two games one point clear at the top and still unbeaten, it is clear they will have to turn on the style if they are to finally break the barren run. Meanwhile, having also failed to defeat Montenegro in the previous qualifying campaign, the hosts should have an extra motive to impress on Friday night. The absence of a high-profile striker was painfully evident in the goalless draw against Ukraine, but the Three Lions should be much more dangerous up front now that Wayne Rooney and free-scoring Daniel Sturridge return to the side. Theo Walcott, Glen Johnson, Ashley Cole and Aaron Lennon continue to miss out, but England should, nonetheless, have enough quality to see off severely weakened Montenegro, with home win available at 4/9.
With the country gaining independence from Serbia in 2006, Montenegro national team have progressed a great deal in the early years of its existence. While struggling in the 2010 World Cup qualifiers, the Brave Falcons showed a huge improvement in the previous qualifying campaign, with two draws against England the perfect proof. And in their third ever qualifying campaign, Branko Brnovic’s side have a decent chance of qualifying for the tournament finals, although their position is not as good as it was three matches ago. Montenegro have since recorded two draws and lose 4-0 at home to Ukraine, but being one point adrift of leaders England and tied on points with second-placed Ukraine, nothing is lost just yet. Nevertheless, the Brave Falcons have been hit with a genuine injury crisis ahead of the most important match in team’s history, and it is not as if they have decent replacement for the absentees. This means that the likes of Mirko Vucinic, Mladen Bozovic, Milorad Pekovic, Vladimir Bozovic and Marko Basa will be sorely missed, but at least Stevan Jovetic and Miodrag Dzudovic have recovered from their respective ailments.
England may have failed to beat Montenegro in the previous three attempts, but this looks like a perfect opportunity to end the disappointing run. The visitors arrive at Wembley with some key men missing, so I seriously doubt they can reach the half-time break without conceding at least one goal.
Best Odds: 17/20
Bookmaker: William Hill