Much has been made in England of the threat posed by Montenegro at Wembley on Friday evening, but coach Branko Brnovic has his own problems.
He is without three of his key players – Juventus striker Mirko Vucinic, Lille defender Marko Basa and his first choice goalkeeper, Mladen Bozovic.
Even major footballing nations would suffer in the absence of their big men, but for Montenegro, a country with a much smaller pool of talent, it’s a huge problem.
One reason for optimism is that Brnovic is used to this kind of situation. He has rarely been able to call on all of his best players in this qualification process, and has proven adept at making the best of what he has. Perhaps a bigger issue, however, is also one Roy Hodgson faces when selecting his squads – namely, that not all the players he picks are regulars for their clubs.
|14/1||Stevan Jovetic is 14/1 with bet365 to open the scoring against England
Up front, Stevan Jovetic is also a concern. He is not yet playing regularly for Manchester City and, as such, his match fitness may not be quite what it should be. In the absence of Vucinic, much depends on him and strike partner Dejan Damjanovic, who is in good form for FC Soeul in the K-League.
That said, Brnovic’s biggest strengths as a coach are his ability to motivate and organise his players. Regardless of their club form, he is usually able to mould them into a unit which performs. They fight for him, for each other and for the emblem on their shirts, and this makes them dangerous.
They fight hard, but they fight fair. The idea that Montenegro might target Wayne Rooney or any other England player and try to get them sent off is ludicrous. Rooney deserved his red card prior to Euro 2012, and Brnovic will send his players out at Wembley to compete, not to provoke.
Win, lose or draw, Friday will be an historic occasion. Montenegro are still fighting to achieve what would be the first qualification for a major tournament in our history. Making it to Brazil would be extraordinary and, given our recent record against England, we have a chance.
Predicted Montenegro starting XI: Poleksic; Pavicevic, Savic, Dzudovic, Bozovic; Zverotic, Vukcevic, Drincic, Boskovic; Jovetic, Damjanovic.