25th March 2013
Montenegro will turn their World Cup dream into reality if they manage to defeat England and open up a five-point advantage at the top of the group, although the hosts would be more than happy with a draw as well. The Three Lions have got to win in Podgorica if they want to achieve automatic qualification, but let’s not forget they could only muster a 2-2 draw last time they visited Stadion Pod Goricom.
Montenegro have been making giant strides ever since they embarked on their first ever qualifying campaign as part of the 2010 World Cup and they were on the verge of making it to Euro 2012. Rather than breaking their spirits, the play-off defeat to Czech Republic only made Branko Brnovic’s side more determined to qualify for the 2014 World Cup, and the Brave Falcons are now on the right track to succeed in their quest. Four straight wins that followed the opening draw against Poland saw Montenegro create a two-point cushion at the Group H summit, meaning that even one point from the England match would leave the team in a good position to qualify. Boss Branko Brnovic has joked that he plans to park the bus against England with two Ferraris up front, referring to Mirko Vucinic and Stevan Jovetic, but there is every chance that he will adopt an ultra-defensive approach. With Montenegro keeping four straight clean sheets in the World Cup qualifiers, England will be in for a difficult task, even if Milorad Pekovic and Savo Pavicevic miss out through suspension.
The fact is England rarely impress in the qualifiers, but always seem to manage to secure their place at the tournament finals. That was the case in the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign, when they battled hard to finish above Montenegro, and it is same old story in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers, where they trail Montenegro by two points ahead of the clash in Podgorica. The Three Lions were expected to do much better having done pretty well at the Euro 2012, but 1-1 draws with Ukraine and Poland have set them back a great deal. Oddly enough, England have improved their showings against minnows such as Moldova and San Marino, but the 8-0 win over the latter is unlikely to mean much when they face rock-solid Montenegro in a hostile atmosphere in Podgorica. Roy Hodgson is set to make a number of changes to the starting line-up after resting several first team regulars on Friday, with Cole, Gerrard, Welbeck, Johnson and Carrick all expected to start.
According to their own admission, Montenegro would be delighted with one point from this match, with four straight clean sheets and a defence-minded approach keeping the hosts in good stead for the match against England. Having struggled against both Ukraine and Poland, the Three Lions might need quite a while to break their opponents, that is if they manage to do that in 90 minutes.
Verdict: Draw at half-time
Best Odds: 23/20