After a ten-man Montenegro squeezed past Moldova in the last match, they are now top of their World Cup qualification group, a couple of points above second-placed England. The two meet face-to-face in Podgorica on Tuesday night, with both teams knowing that a victory would put themselves in an excellent position at the top of the group.
England have met Montenegro twice since 2010, and have been held to a draw on both occasions. With Montenegro boasting a solid squad sprinkled with excellent talent -- plus some maniacal home support -- this game will be as difficult as it is important for Roy Hodgson's side. Their 8-0 win in San Marino a few days ago was a nice confidence booster, but does little to prepare England for the challenge posed here.
Montenegro's obvious dangerman is Fiorentina's Stevan Jovetić, though his strike partner Mirko Vučinić of Juventus will also offer a threat. As coach Branko Brnović said himself, "we will maybe park a bus in defence but we also have two Ferraris in attack." Vučinić scored the only goal of the Moldova match, and will partner Jovetić up front in a 4-4-2. So far they've parked the bus well, conceding only twice in the five games they've played so far.
Whilst coach Brnović may plan on parking a bus, he's not been shy in criticising the English style of playing amidst concerns about the pitch condition. "As far as I know, [it is] the English [who] have always favoured long passes," he mused, pointing out an amusing hole in their complaints.
For England, right-back Glen Johnson will likely recover in time from a toe injury, while Steven Gerrard -- who was rested in the game against San Marino -- will likely play, in a host of changes to the starting eleven. Ashley Cole is expected to come in for Leighton Baines while Danny Welbeck could also start, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Kyle Walker and Jermaine Defoe candidates to drop to the bench.
As for the Montenegrin team news, Greuther Fürth's veteran midfielder Milorad Peković is out through suspension after being sent off against Moldova, and Red Star Belgrade forward Filip Kasalica is a serious doubt after he was carried off in the same match.
Match Date/Time: Tuesday 26th March 2013 9 p.m. local, 4 p.m. ET
Venue: Stadion Pod Goricom, Podgorica, Montenegro
TV: ITV 1 (U.K.) ESPN Deportes, ESPN3, Gol TV USA (U.S.)