We’ve got a big game tonight, against the undefeated group leaders. So what do we know about Montenegro?
It’s another one of those places that used to be part of a country that no longer exists – it’s been independent a number of times but always seems to be swallowed up by bigger neighbours: Venice, the Ottoman Empire and finally Yugoslavia – the reason that we call the country Montenegro is because that’s what the Venetians named it, although the locals use ‘Crna Gora’ which also means ‘Black Mountain’.
It’s a tiny place – 2/3rds the size of Wales with a slightly bigger population than Leeds – and finally became independent in May 2006; the following month Serbia & Montenegro took part in the World Cup in Germany but lost all three first round games. The Montenegrin national team has only been active since March 2007 and is currently managed by Niko Krancjar’s dadZlatko.
So basically we’re playing one of those countries that are capable of producing decent players, but to think of them as some kind of emerging power would be completely wrong. Their recent win in Bulgaria was only their second victory outside Montenegro since October 2007 and they’ve lost five of their last ten away games – in the last year they’ve drawn in Dublin and lost to Macedonia and Norway which seems to me to be a far better indicator of what sort of a team they are. Apart from Italy, they’ve not faced any heavyweight international opponents…stop giggling at the back please. We are international heavyweights – we regularly get beaten in the final stages of tournaments, not in the group stages. So there.
The team that beat Switzerland in Podgorica on Friday is what you might expect. None of the starting eleven play in Montenegro; with the exception of Branko Boskovic (who plays for DC United in the USA) the rest of the players are spread around Europe: only Simon VukcevicÂ (Sporting Lisbon)Â and captain Mirko Vucinic (Roma)Â play for Champions League/Europa League standard teams.
Apart from John Terry and Darren Bent having to sit out, Fab has a pretty much full strength squad to call on. Rio Ferdinand’s return from the injury that kept him out of the World Cup is good news, although you don’t always know if he’s going to be thinking about fast cars, record companies and lifestyle magazines when he should be thinking about defending. Ferdinand’s presence might be able to inspire Wayne Rooney, who still looks out of sorts – although his circumstances are purely his own fault and I’ve got no sympathy for him at all.
Now it’s prediction time: we’ve got an 11 game winning streak going at Wembley (undefeated in the last fourteen), so it’s going to be tough for Montenegro. It sounds bleedin’ obvious, but the Montenegrins have done well away from home when they’ve stopped the opposition scoring but as we’veÂ scored an average ofÂ 2.9 goals per game at Wembley in recent games, we probably playing them at the right time. I can see them getting at least one goal though (we’ve not kept consecutive clean sheets at home for three years) but England ought to win this one.
If Vucinic scores, he’s promised to repeat his goal celebration that got him a booking last week: I think if I’d scored a goal against England I’d run around with my shorts on my head as well! I’m sure that the ITV commentators have been scraping the bottom of Â their cliche barrels in order to come up with dreadful puns: my money’s on ‘that REALLY WAS pants defending from England!’
Or if it’s a tight game with a late England goal from Rooney: ‘He’s the man who broke the back of Montenegro!’