Wembley Stadium, London
11th October, 20:00 BST
England battle against Montenegro at the Wembley in a crucial Group H World Cup 2014 Qualifier on Friday. A battle it is. England have not been exciting in their qualification campaign so far and would look to win Friday’s game to ensure they qualify automatically for Brazil. Anything less and they face the possibility of watching and waiting for other teams to decide their fate. Montenegro are one of the teams in the group with a chance of qualifying still alive. If they draw against England at the Wembley and beat minnows Moldova in their last group game, they will have a very good chance of finishing second at least in the group, giving them a chance of qualifying for Brazil.
Now is the time for the English to bury all excuses and turn out a good performance to earn their place in Brazil. So far, England have been ineffectual, only beating minnows Moldova and San Marino by big margins. Friday’s game gives them the opportunity to beat a Montenegro side that has proved to be very difficult opponents for the English in the past. Their two previous encounters in Euro 2012 qualifiers ended in draws, the latter of which involved Wayne Rooney being sent off. Rooney will hope to start this game though in the hole, behind Daniel Sturridge. Tom Cleverley has usually filled that space behind the striker and has been ordinary. Rooney will hope to be more creative than his Manchester United teammate and also to track back and help out in midfield. His comeback means Rickie Lambert will be relegated to the bench.
Left back Ashley Cole is set to miss out through injury and Everton’s Leighton Baines looks set to grab the opportunity with both hands. Kieran Gibbs will be his replacement on the bench. Roy Hodgson has a decision to make in midfield on whether to play Michael Carrick or Frank Lampard. Carrick has performed well in the Premier League consistently, but Hodgson is thought to play it safe and stick with the experience that Lampard provides. Lampard will be partnered by Jack Wilshere, who will use his pace to harry opposition players into making mistakes and giving the ball away cheaply. Wilshere is seen as the future of English football and Hodgson will want him to be at his alert best to keep the play ticking for the English from midfield.
Skipper Steven Gerrard will then have to be accommodated as a left attacking midfielder, a role he is familiar with. Gerrard will look to build attacks as well as track back to stop the Montenegro midfielders from dominating proceedings. James Milner should come in for the injured Theo Walcott on the right with Daniel Sturridge completing the attacking line. Danny Welbeck is fit but is expected to be a substitute. The centre half pairing of Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill will be persisted with as they would look to keep a Montenegro attack without Juventus’s Mirko Vucinic at bay, while Kyle Walker will make the most of Glen Johnson’s absence through injury as he cements himself in Roy Hodgson’s future plans for England.
Hodgson also has talented Tottenham wide man Andros Townsend at his disposal, but the former Liverpool boss is expected to play safe and go with established international players for this game. Hodgson has in the past displayed a tendency to be pragmatic and cautious, often naming starting line ups to counter opposition strengths than to play to his own team’s positives. Joe Hart will be the undisputed first choice between the posts. Roy Hodgson’s men are on an eight match unbeaten run.
Expected Line Up: Hart; Walker, Cahill, Jagielka, Baines; Milner, Lampard, Wilshere, Gerrard; Rooney, Sturridge
Manager Branko Brnovic knows his Montenegro side still have a shot at qualifying for Brazil and will prepare his side well for the tough test at Wembley. Montenegro have a good recent record against England, having been unbeaten in both those games and Brnovic will hope history repeats itself on Friday. Brnovic will have to get a result without Juventus striker Mirko Vucinic who was injured in the Champions League clash with Galatasaray. This would put more pressure on Manchester City new boy Stevan Jovetic, who will be expected to cause the England defenders a few problems.
Apart from Jovetic, midfielder Elsad Zverotic knows about England plying his trade for Fulham, while former Premier League players Simon Vukcevic of Blackburn and Stefan Savic of Manchester City complete the English connection. FC Seoul striker Dejan Damjanovic will likely replace Vucinic up front. Damjanovic got the goal against in the reverse fixture that was drawn 1-1 in Podgorica in March and will look to repeat his feats in this game if given the chance.
Montenegro may also face this difficult game without centre back Marko Basa, midfielder Miodrag Pekovic and goalkeeper Mladen Bozovic, who are major doubts ahead of the game. Montenegro are without a win in their last five games but will do their best to prevent England from scoring at the Wembley.
Expected Line Up: Poleksic; Jovanovic, Pavicevic, Savic, Volkov; Zverotic, Novakovic, Vukcevic; Kasalica, Damjanovic, Jovetic
Player to watch out for
The Manchester United man will look to bury his past ghosts of his sending off against these opponents in their Euro 2012 qualifier. Rooney returns to the England team to take his place just behind Daniel Sturridge. Rooney tops the scoring charts in Group H with five goals. He has played in the hole at Manchester United very well and will be looking to link up with the inform Daniel Sturridge, who has got six goals from seven matches for Liverpool in the Premier League this season, to bamboozle the Montenegro defenders. Rooney is key not only for his ability to link up with Sturridge but also because he is a threat from dead ball situations, having scored a few beautifully struck free kicks this season. He will relish testing the Montenegro defence with his curling free kick efforts. Rooney will also track back more actively than Tom Cleverley who never really shone in the role behind the striker in Qualification.
England 1-0 Montenegro
Blast from the Past
We leave you with memories from the reverse fixture which was drawn 1-1 in March: