After the calm of Friday’s routine demolition of San Marino comes the storm and high-pressure stakes of Podgorica with a confident Montenegro side lying in wait for Roy Hodgson’s men.
If England can secure a first win over the Adriatic nation at the third time of asking, their path to next year’s summer festival of football in Brazil would become a lot clearer.
Easier said than done however, no least according to recent history.
The last time England sought a much-needed result in Montenegro’s capital only a mere 16 months ago they made hard work of it.
Goals from Ashley Young and Darren Bent looked to have sealed the all-important victory to ensure the Three Lions’ passage to Euro 2012 however a Wayne Rooney dismissal and two-goal comeback made for difficult viewing as Fabio Capello’s England barely squeezed through via automatic qualification.
Failure to beat Branko Brnovic’s side would not hold fatal consequences this time around but would hand the initiative to the current Group H leaders in the race for the 2014 World Cup.
The task is simple in essence but accurate execution is required. If England can hold their nerve and deliver some of the fluidity they displayed against the sadly inept San Marino in their previous International “test” there is no reason why three points cannot be achieved. Even with the threat of Serie A’s dangerous duo Stevan Jovetic and Mirko Vucinic.
Fiorentina’s Jovetic has smashed 12 goals in Italy this campaign while Juve’s Vucinic, although struggling to hit double figures in the top division, scored the decisive goal against Moldova last Friday to take his Montenegro total to 14 and put them back in the drivers’ seat for qualification.
“Park the bus and use the two Ferraris” were Brnovic’s words in anticipation of England’s crucial visit. A strong defensive showing complimented with the menace of their two Italian stallions and the 45-year-old is positive they can frustrate their opponents once more.
Most Montenegrins are relying on erratic behaviour from the talismanic Rooney and a loss of nerve to help them over the line. However, the Manchester United man would take a great deal of pleasure from delivering a killer blow to their chances on the site of his previous misdemeanour.
Rio Ferdinand’s self-imposed withdrawal from the squad and a training exercise against statistically the worst footballing country on the planet in San Marino have perhaps distracted England from the mission ahead. If they take their eye off the ball against Montenegro, they will certainly be punished. A 24-place gap in the FIFA rankings would suggest a tidy win should ensue but the hosts boast an eight-game unbeaten record and the artillery to shock Hodgson’s lethargic troops.
Betting men would point to an away win to end England’s recent Montenegro hoodoo especially with Hodgson’s methods proving so fruitful at present. If Brnovic’s negative game plan is anything to go by however, expect a trickier night’s work.