England will know that defeat must be avoided at all costs against Montenegro if they are to retain realistic hopes of qualifying automatically for Brazil 2014. “The Brave Falcons” have had an outstanding start to their Group H campaign and currently lead the group by two points from Roy Hodgson’s men and a mammoth eight points ahead of EURO 2012 co-hosts Ukraine and Poland in third and fourth place respectively.
The visitors will have relatively fond memories of their last trip to the hostile atmosphere of the Podgorica City Stadium, which came only 12 months ago as the Three Lions booked their automatic place in the European Championships at the expense of the Montenegrins with a 2-2 draw. However, Fabio Capello’s last match in charge of the national team was tarnished by the red card picked up by star striker Wayne Rooney for lashing out at an opposing defender, an offence that saw him banned from England’s first two matches in Poland and Ukraine.
Almost 12 months on and Montenegro have arguably improved since then under the guidance of Branko Brnovic. The Balkan side have won half of their 12 matches played under the 45-year-old and that in no part is down to their mercurial strike partnership of Stevan Jovetic and Mirko Vucinic, who both ply their trade successfully in Italy for Fiorentina and Juventus respectively. The duo will undoubtedly pose the biggest threat to England’s defence, who will have a rather makeshift look to it in the absence of John Terry and Rio Ferdinand as well as the injured Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka.
Hodgson could restore captain Steven Gerrard, Glen Johnson, Ashley Cole, James Milner and Danny Welbeck after they were all rested for the 8-0 romp in San Marino on Friday night. The likes of Leighton Baines, Kyle Walker, Frank Lampard, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jermain Defoe all impressed against the group minnows but the feeling may be that in the bear pit of Podgorica, a little more experience and solidity is needed if England are to come away with the three points.
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