England fans would’ve woken up this morning still disappointed by last night’s events in Podgorica. After a professional performance at bottom-ranked nation San Marino, the England camp will feel a little despondent after last night’s proceedings.
Like I mentioned before, England comfortably beat San Marino 8-0 at the Stadio di Serravalle. There is an argument still to this day stating that teams such as San Marino shouldn’t be in these qualification tournaments and teams such as England, Germany and Spain do not need these sorts of “training” matches in order to qualify for such an illustrious event (World Cup).
Podgorica is a hostile city in Eastern Europe. Montenegro itself has recently been involved in wars for independence and has a reputation of racism. Crowd trouble was a major factor that worried many ahead of this crucial fixture. This problem occurred earlier in the season when Montenegro played Moldova, as a Firecracker was thrown at the Moldova goalkeeper. This led to a major fine given to the country by UEFA.
Roy Hodgson’s selection was relatively similar to the side that defeated Brazil in a friendly earlier in the calendar year at Wembley. The situation before play was that Montenegro had a two point led over the three lions, although England’s goal difference was superior compared to their opponents. If England lost, then they faced a major challenge to win the group and would most likely have to settle for a play-off place. A win for England on the other hand, would be a significant step towards qualifying for Rio next summer.
The game started brightly for England and in particularly Wayne Rooney (who was sent off 17 months ago against Montenegro). His cheeky chip early on in the match was perfect in every way; too good in fact to go into the net as the ball agonisingly hit the post. England did eventually gain a much deserved lead as Rooney headed home from Steven Gerrard’s corner. The first half was dominated by the team in white, and the score could easily have been three or four- nil at the break.
But the oldest of all the sayings in football seemed to come into effect. Montenegro came out a completely different side, a side that looked more like the ones that the press and media had previously talked about leading up to the game and a team topping the group. The manager had made the side more attacking, making positive substitutions (eventually going 3 at the back!). As each minute passed, England fans were clinging on by the edge of their seats; each Montenegro shot was getting closer towards an equaliser. Vucinic and Jovetic were getting more and more into the game which caused problems for England’s backline. Eventually, after holding on against constant Montenegro pressure, England lost their lead with twenty minutes to play. A fast paced, in swinging corner was headed by Damjanovic straight at Joe Hart, who could only parry his save downwards towards the penalty area. It was like pinball in the area as England defenders tried to clear the ball but Damjanovic was there to stab the ball into the net. This sent the fans crazy- flares were being set off in celebration.
Roy Hodgson’s response was to bring on Ashley Young, his only substitution of the game. However, this failed to act as a catalyst and an England revival never materialised. Although Steven Gerrard was close to winning the game for England in the final minute as his free kick was only just pushed over the crossbar by the Montenegro goalkeeper.
In the end, England had finished the night as it had started; they now have to win crucial matches away in Ukraine and home ties against Montenegro and Poland to win the group. Although the three lions are still undefeated, they haven’t beaten any of the “bigger” nations in the group, drawing all three games against Poland, Ukraine and Montenegro. Ukraine and Poland also closed the gap between themselves and the top two as they both won their respective fixtures. The winners of the game between Poland and Ukraine will find themselves only a point behind England who occupies 2nd position in group H.
“It was a game of two halves”.