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Montenegro make haste to major tournament

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Jonathan Stevenson | 15:38 UK time, Monday, 11 October 2010

When Fabio Capello and his team walk out at Wembley on Tuesday for their latest Euro 2012 qualifying tie against Montenegro, they will come up against a name only too familiar to those associated with English football.

Taking his place in the opposition's dugout will be Zlatko Kranjcar, father of Tottenham midfielder Niko and manager of Montenegro - arguably the greatest threat to England's chances of reaching the finals in Poland and the Ukraine.

Under the shrewd leadership of the much-travelled Kranjcar, who took over in February, Montenegro have made a perfect start to their campaign to qualify for a first tournament as an independent nation since splitting from Serbia in 2006, winning all three games against Wales, Bulgaria and Switzerland 1-0 to top Group G.

It already looks as though The Brave Falcons will provide England with their sternest test in qualification, though Kranjcar does not believe it is realistic to suggest his team can finish top of the group and automatically reach the Euros.

"After a good start I am seriously thinking now about second position and the play-offs," an upbeat Kranjcar told me on the eve of the biggest match in Montenegro's fledgling football history. "I consider myself as a realistic optimist, especially as we just beat Switzerland in Podgorica.

Kranjcar believes talisman Vucinic holds the key to Montenegro hopes. Photograph: Reuters

"We are arriving relaxed, with no 'result' pressure on us. Playing against England at Wembley is a huge motivation for my players and if we manage to use it alongside tactical discipline we might just be able to surprise our hosts.

"I know England will be ready for us, that they will approach the game very seriously after some bitter experiences against Balkan teams such as Croatia. They have no real weaknesses when they play with the right motivation. Our goal is to present our football in the best possible way and show to the world that our previous results were not a coincidence."

It is unlikely that the fastidious Capello will have put Montenegro's hat-trick of victories down to mere luck. This is a team that, despite the country's population of fewer than 700,000 (less than that of Birmingham), contains some very good footballers and they have the added threat of patriotic fervour, of being desperate to take their country to a major tournament for the first time.

Kranjcar, who captained Croatia in their first international match as an independent nation in 1990 against the United States, knows what is at stake for the Montenegrins and believes he has the resources at his disposal to turn a nation's dream into reality.

"We have a group of players who are strong characters full of pride, especially when they are playing under the national flag," he said. "I think our defence have all played very well so far, especially Marko Basa and goalkeeper Mladen Bozovic. [Sporting Lisbon midfielder] Simon Vukcevic is also a great individual player, with talent to sell. We are a small country and every player is very valuable for us.

"One of the most important things is the team spirit. My job was to convince the players that they have the quality to compete on the highest level, to give them the self confidence they were missing in the qualifiers for World Cup.

"I know their value and that gives me the right to teach them and motivate them to be on the top of their game when needed."

Right at the top of his game is Roma striker Mirko Vucinic, a footballer of sublime talent who is far and away the biggest danger to England - especially as the centre of Capello's defence will be different for a sixth successive match.

Vucinic was imperious in the 1-0 win over the Swiss, scoring a wonderful winner and then showing his playful side by whipping off his shorts and placing them on his head by way of a celebration. He has scored 11 goals for Montenegro, and Kranjcar is under no illusions as to his star quality.

Kranjcar is hoping to catch Capello's England off-guard. Photograph: Getty Images

"When the team plays well, someone always pops-up like Vucinic. He is a class player, with charisma and personality, a real captain that this team needs. He was very dangerous against Switzerland and showed he can score against anyone."

After their first attempt at qualifying for a major tournament ended prematurely, Montenegro could not have dared hope they would be in with such a good chance so soon. Drawn in Group Eight alongside Italy and Republic of Ireland, their bid to reach the World Cup in South Africa never got off the ground as Montenegro finished a distant fifth, 15 points behind the Italians and lower even than Bulgaria and Cyprus.

In order to prepare the ground for a real challenge, the Montenegro Football Association needed to appoint a manager with experience of leading a country to a tournament and an instinct for getting the best out of their players, and in Kranjcar they seem to have found themselves the perfect candidate.

"I learned much from my playing days and I'm proud of being the first Croatian captain, but for me a much more important moment was when Croatia booked a place at the 2006 World Cup in Germany when I was in charge," said the 53-year-old Kranjcar, who was also capped 11 times by Yugoslavia.

"I learned many things in that campaign and now I am using that experience in my job with Montenegro. I guess the two jobs are pretty comparable because of the similar mentality and the encouraging start I made with both teams in their campaigns.

"Leading Croatia is a bit more delicate because of the high expectations the nation has from their team, while in Montenegro we do not have the same results imperative. We just want to give our best effort in every game."

Kranjcar's son Niko scored twice for Croatia as they won in Israel on Friday to go top of Group F, and the Montenegro coach admits he would love both countries to make it through to the Euros in 2012.

He says he has spoken to Niko about Tuesday's game, but quickly adds "not because I needed his opinion". Kranjcar spends a lot of time in London watching Premier League football and has done his homework on England's campaign so far, as well as their short-lived World Cup adventure in the summer.

I finish by asking him what it would mean to Montenegro and to Kranjcar to be one of the 16 teams competing for the European Championship title. "It would be a fantastic success for the entire county and a big boost for everyone in Montenegro," he says.

"I am very proud to be at the helm of the Montenegrin national team and very proud of my players. I took the responsibility to lead this talented group of players and we will try to get the results that will make everybody proud.

"If we finished in the top two in the group and reached the play-offs it would be a great success for the entire population. I would be absolutely delighted if we qualified, and of course I wish to Croatia the same success."

It is a little over three years ago that Croatia arrived at Wembley and ended England's hopes of reaching Euro 2008 with an infamous 3-2 victory. Kranjcar will be hoping Montenegro can repeat the feat and take another step towards a historic first tournament appearance.


  • Comment number 1.

    Vucinic is the key to Montenegro, if he can be kept quiet they should not pose too greater threat, although being solid they should not be taken lightly. With England's ailing or injury-prone centre backs we will have to be careful.

  • Comment number 2.

    so ur Jonathan Stevenson. the bitter live text commentator

  • Comment number 3.

    can anyone write blogs for the bbc these days?

  • Comment number 4.

    Vucinic may well be a fine player but surely taking your shorts off, putting them on your head and running around in your undies like a drunken 14-year old is not really the behaviour one would expect from the captain of the national team. Come on Rio, score a goal for England!

  • Comment number 5.

    I love football too. Gizza job!

  • Comment number 6.

    Watch out England. Montenegro are Balkan - codeword for unpredictable quality!

  • Comment number 7.

    you learn something new every day! I wasn't aware Niko's father was their manager. It is impressive what they are doing so far in the group and good luck to them (as long as we do not drop points to them!).

    I am glad that we are playing them after 3 wins, we would have probably been too complacent and got caught out if it had been the first group game.

  • Comment number 8.

    Ok.Stevo.You are trying but not enough.I must say that you just missed theme.

    Montenegro played pretty much awful in WC qualifiers under Zoran Filipovic with much more stronger squad and bigger depth.Last year in this time we were down and out even with Jovetic who sinked Liverpool with Fiorentina in CL group round with brace.He is one of the wizkids of modern football and maybe one of the really few real role models in the modern game.Gentle and modest he just enjoys in every mometn on the pitch.Now he is on treatment from long term injury and he will be out for another 5 months.

    Kranjcar is also without Vukasin Poleksic(Debrecin),first choice keeper who is banned from UEFA for match fixing allegations and Nikola Drincic,best defensive midfielder who is very prone to injuries.

    Even withou third of his first options Kranjcar suceed it in first 3 qualifying games.How?

    Former manager Filipovic had more defensive and very careful aproach to the games,with no natural born charm or harisma.Supporters were anoyed with same usual words of minor goals and long way to glory.

    And then came Cico,which is Kranjcar's nickname,and turned the page.Positive attitude,hunger for good result.He had 3 close loses against Macedonia,Albania at home and Norway in friendlies but he just kept with same story.We can,we are better than results.It was noticable that Vucinic,Vukcevic and others have more passion when playing for national side and now this is thier main strength.Atmosphere is fantastic,even without some regular players.

    Montenegro is hard working side with class and skill from Vucinic who is master blaster of modern football.In all our wins he had blistering moments and that touch of real quality that amazes everyone.He is something between Bergkamp,Zola,Litmanen feat. size and speed and maybe he is player that can play great football in any big club in Premier League.If he is Batman of Montenegro national side than Radomir Djalovic,the other striker in 4-4-2 formation,is Robin.Just hard working,with pace and very stuborn trying to catch every ball and trying to profit from the Vucinic's skill to glue two defenders to himself.

    Midfield is less creative than expected and with Zverotic,Pekovic,Boskovic,Kascelan,Novakovic you can't guarantee atractive football but you can promise fight for every ball.There is also Simon Vukcevic,player of Sportin Lisbon,maybe only player that have skills cloes to Vucinic but curently underachieving because he have to much wish to show himself to the world in great shape.

    In the defense,there is Pavicevic(he will be replaced by Stefan Savic,Partizan Belgrade player because of injury),Dzudovic(very much like british CB with much heart and less skill),also great Marko Basa(with that Kayser Franz vision and anticipation) and Jovanovic(great with ball but have momentary lapses of stupidity from time to time,like Zat Knight but not so often :) ).

    Goalie is Mladen Bozovic,with Kranjac and Vucinic key figure in Montenegro wins.Great at line with some errors from crosses but with great reflexes and now with selfesteem to the sky.

    England will have problems with Montenegro but how much I really can't guess.There is spark in Mr Kranjcar's eyes that makes these players greater than they probably are.As long they believe in his words Montenegro will be pain in the a** to every single football unit of the world.

    First problem for England is defensive pair,noe Rio or Lescott can contain Mirko in this matchup after injury problems,and Johnson and Cole are not really defensive mindede to help the cause.England will have thier share of chances infront of Bozovic but they must convert them soon enough.Every more minute on the pitch with positive reuslt for Montenegro will be one more problem for England to break them.And to add there will be about 1200 very noisy supporters for away side.

  • Comment number 9.

    Nice blog Steve, good to get a little heads up before the match (very right to be cautious with these guys). Not sure why some blokes on here don't appreciate your blog but i'm not sure how many of them "critics" actually knew anything about Montenegro before the blog!!!

  • Comment number 10.

    AAh like good european east side team, yes. i Speak they will surprise not only english. be not surprised when score is full time 1-1. maybe gErrard first score, or perhaps man with pants on head, yes.

    and other surprises....

    no teRry, no lumphard, no significant choices capello for make since World Cup, yes..? So, since wOrld cup to March 2011 Capello make £4M but no big decision for make earn big wallet. Another nice job for have, eh, Steve..? yuo want that one next, i can tell,...

  • Comment number 11.

    I think I love you Vlado

  • Comment number 12.

    Jonathan, where you say you met Brian Clough in his son's newsagents, do you mean his brother's?

  • Comment number 13.

    #11. Oh, happy day :)

  • Comment number 14.

    I think this will be a classic English performance against "lesser" opposition.

    I reckon they will play poorly for long spells, a clever striker such as Vucinic will cause them problems (and perhaps score), but England will scrape a win in the end, 2-1 being my prediction. After the game the media will gloss over the problems, concentrating instead on the positive result, which they would have settled for before kick off. Surprise may well be expressed at the quality of some of the Montenegran players who could "probably do a job in England" - Vucinic could perhaps make his way to a powerhouse such as West Brom for example.

    This pattern will be repeated until England qualify for the Euros, where they will scrape their way through the group stage before being trounced by the first decent side they encounter. At this point the tabloid media will explode in a frenzy, claiming its all Capello's fault, and this time he'll probably get the tin tack.

    Meanwhile, my team, Scotland will have finished nowhere near the finals, despite having gained a creditable 0-0 in Liechtenstein, having opted for a pragmatic 2-6-3-0 formation, (2 keepers, 6 centre halves, 2 wing backs and a holding midfielder, 0 forwards, obviously).

  • Comment number 15.

    Montenegro will become England's 85th different international opponents when the two teams meet at Wembley Stadium on Tuesday night.

    England's first opponents were Scotland in 1872 and this was the very first international football game played, making both countries the joint-oldest in World football.

    Wales became England's second opponents in 1879 followed by Ireland in 1882.

    The first non-British Isles opponents England faced were Austria in 1908.

    Chile were England's first non-European opponents in 1950.

    England have faced two representative teams - The Rest of Europe (UEFA) in 1938 and the Rest of the World (FIFA) in 1963.

    Several of England's opponents no longer exist as soverign states, including Bohemia, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.

    England have a negative record against only four countries: Brazil, Italy, Romania and Uruguay.

    Here's the full list of England's 85 international opponents in chronological order...

    1 Scotland 1872
    2 Wales 1879
    3 Ireland (1882-1920)* 1882
    4 Austria 1908
    5 Hungary 1908
    6 Bohemia* 1908
    7 Belgium 1921
    8 Ireland, Northern 1921
    9 France 1923
    10 Sweden 1923
    11 Luxembourg 1927
    12 Spain 1929
    13 Germany 1930
    14 Italy 1933
    15 Switzerland 1933
    16 Czechoslovakia* 1934
    17 Netherlands 1935
    18 Norway 1937
    19 Finland 1937
    20 Rest of Europe UEFA 1938
    21 Yugoslavia* 1939
    22 Romania 1939
    23 Ireland, Republic of** 1946
    24 Portugal 1947
    25 Denmark 1948
    26 Chile 1950
    27 United States of America 1950
    28 Argentina 1951
    29 Uruguay 1953
    30 Germany, West* 1954
    31 Brazil 1956
    32 U.S.S.R.* 1958
    33 Peru 1959
    34 Mexico 1959
    35 Bulgaria 1962
    36 Germany, East* 1963
    37 Rest of the World FIFA 1963
    38 Poland 1966
    39 Colombia 1970
    40 Ecuador 1970
    41 Malta 1971
    42 Greece 1971
    43 Cyprus 1975
    44 Australia 1980
    45 Iceland 1982
    46 Kuwait 1982
    47 Turkey 1984
    48 Egypt 1986
    49 Israel 1986
    50 Canada 1986
    51 Morocco 1986
    52 Paraguay 1986
    53 Saudi Arabia 1988
    54 Albania 1989
    55 Tunisia 1990
    56 Cameroon 1990
    57 New Zealand 1991
    58 Malaysia 1991
    59 C.I.S.* 1992
    60 San Marino 1993
    61 Nigeria 1994
    62 Japan 1995
    63 Croatia 1996
    64 China 1996
    65 Moldova 1996
    66 Georgia 1996
    67 South Africa 1997
    68 Czech Republic 1998
    69 Ukraine 2000
    70 South Korea 2002
    71 Slovakia 2002
    72 Macedonia FYR 2002
    73 Liechtenstein 2003
    74 Serbia & Montenegro* 2003
    75 Azerbaijan 2004
    76 Jamaica 2006
    77 Trinidad & Tobago 2006
    78 Andorra 2006
    79 Estonia 2007
    80 Russia 2007
    81 Kazakhstan 2008
    82 Belarus 2008
    83 Slovenia 2009
    84 Algeria 2010
    85 Montenegro 2010
    (*Country no longer exists)

    England's International Record 1872-2010:

  • Comment number 16.

    Wow, and UEFA does not penalize those who perfom a striptease on the football field ? Disgrace...

  • Comment number 17.

    Post 12 - and off topic, I think it was his Sons (but it was a few years ago), my Grandparents lived just round the corner and I went in there many times. I also saw the great man and he ruffled my hair as I got my 10p bag of sweets!

    Vlado, great post

    Steveo good blog, actually looking forward to the game a bit more now, as it should be a good challenge for England.

  • Comment number 18.

    It should be an interesting game. As this is their biggest game to date, Montenegro will go for it big time. England will need to play a quick passing game and if playing at their usual high tempo - should win comfortably. The only worry for England is which England team will turn up tonight? and not take the game too lightly.

  • Comment number 19.

    You really never know what you're going to get from Balkan sides where the Three Lions are concerned - just look at recent results by England against the likes of Croatia and Macedonia. Serbia too can be great on their day but woeful when they're not on their game. Montenegro were well off the pace in the World Cup qualifiers and results so far in the group against Wales, Bulgaria an Switzerland might say more about the opposition teams sad decline than Montenegro's rise in form...we'll see!?

    A cautious approach is warranted but an early goal will settle any nerves for the oldest national association playing against the youngest. The away game will be tougher.

  • Comment number 20.

    Ferry_Arab (#14) great comment - you made me laugh out loud.

  • Comment number 21.


    Just watch.

    England minus Lampard equals a much better team. It frees Gerrard who is the better player. No they cannot play together and is no coincidence that England have already looked much better without him, and guess what, Gerrard has been scoring goals.

    Terry is perfectly replacable and it will be good to see a tricky footballer playing with good delivery in ashley young rather than the headless speed merchant Theo Walcott.

    C'mon england. A shame Jags and Bent miss out, as rio and crouch will be the only problem for me, players who stunk out a terrible 2006 world cup and whose attitudes stink also

  • Comment number 22.

    Realistically England should look to win this 3-0 if they want to send a message to their international rivals that they are a force to be reckoned with.
    If England want to ever compete for international glory then they need to ruthlessly dispatch the small teams like Montenegro with brutal efficiency. Try and copy Germany in the world cup.
    Complacency isn't an option as we know that the smaller sides can be very difficult to break down as they have more heart and determination.
    England has a much bigger population - 50m compared to 700,000. The English players play in arguably the best league in the world. This match should be a foregone conclusion. This might sound like arrogance but it is the david vs goliath scenario. England are at home too.
    Realistically I think proceedings will go as post 14 - ferry arab said.
    England will limp home with a last gasp goal by Gerrard again.

  • Comment number 23.

    #15- Thankyou?

  • Comment number 24.

    Re #14: Two keepers? You don't know your good fortune.

  • Comment number 25.

    A fit Rio remains England's best centre back. United's defence has been transformed in the couple of games since his return. I doubt the likes of Terry would have been dragged out of position quite so spectacularly V Germany had Rio been there. In Rio's absence it has become obvious that he is the brains, the class and the best leader for England's defence. Rio and Jagielka would be my prefered pairing when fit.

    I thought the injuries at centre forward might finally see Capello playing Rooney there, but no such luck it would seem.

  • Comment number 26.

    any country that was once part of yugoslavia must be respected for their footballing ability

  • Comment number 27.

    'Terry is perfectly replacable and it will be good to see a tricky footballer playing with good delivery in ashley young rather than the headless speed merchant Theo Walcott'

    If he was uninjurred, then Theo would have been a much preferred starter in the wing. He has talent with speed and can deliver more than young. He has grown up and improved in his delivery too. But Arsenal needs him more for the upcoming match and will be glad to see him not involved in the match today.

  • Comment number 28.


    You don't read the news much, do you?

  • Comment number 29.

    #8 - Great blog Vlado.. many thanks :)

    #15 - And?

  • Comment number 30.

    Thanks for kind words...
    Last news from Montenegro squad - Vucinic will not play because of injury...
    So one problem less for Capelo but I still think that Montenego will be tough nut to crack tonight.

  • Comment number 31.

    Any one who cn tell me the lineup of England today???

  • Comment number 32.

    @ 8 & 11 Vlado... I love you too, win tonight... I love you more!

  • Comment number 33.

    no doubt Montenegro will miss jovetic, however if he is back for the return fixture when he clicks england are in trouble

  • Comment number 34.

    #22 This might sound like arrogance but it is the david vs goliath scenario.

    And we all know how that ended.;)

  • Comment number 35.

    i will never be surprised if england loose

  • Comment number 36.

    Celezar (#34) that's why I said it. You never know what's going to happen with the England team.

  • Comment number 37.

    It's the classic scenario. Read France v Belarus a couple of weeks ago. However I reckon that three points, however achieved, would be regaded as a good result (see France v Belarus a couple of weeks ago!)
    And by the way; No. 15. You really should get out more often.

  • Comment number 38.

    An enjoyable read, I know more than I did at the top.

    England could learn from the smaller nations who compete at world-level but I feel the FA prefer fact-finding trips to the bigger, developed sporting nations. For example, we could do worse than send a team out to check-out what they do in Uruguay as opposed to just the countries with
    vast resources.

  • Comment number 39.

    SJ, think you're right, countries like Uruguay don't have the resources that the major countries do, yet still produce top players. Just look at the likes of Holland and Portugal in Europe as well, smaller populations yet fantastic talents.

    I think the problem in England stems as much from the attitude towards the game as the administration. Fans still cheer a hard, dangerous tackle more than they would a sound sideways ball to retain possession. Our attitude towards the game has never been one of artistry, more of industry and that is why we continue to produce grafters short on technical ability.

    We play 11-a-side from the age of 9, when we can barely kick a ball 20 yards, and when the only player who touches the ball more than 5 times in the game is playing centre-midfield. Parents yell and castigate from the sidelines, adding pressure to what is meant to be a fun game. If a twelve year old beats two men on the edge of his own box here he gets shouted at by the coach for attempting it. If he loses the ball so what, he has had the gumption to try something for the fun of it, surely that's what it's all about?

    Montenegro have some quality wee players, and you just know that we are likely to be technically inferior in many departments. However, like many others, I expect our pragmatic brand of football and superior nous and physical prowess to win out in the end, just.

  • Comment number 40.

    I hate to quote myself :D but...

    Every more minute on the pitch with positive reuslt for Montenegro will be one more problem for England to break them.And to add there will be about 1200 very noisy supporters for away side.

  • Comment number 41.

    Re #15: excllent information regarding England's opponents, with one error: you are wrong to claim that the country of Bohemia does not exist, it they are still around, only they are known these days as the Czech Republic.


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