THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

7 October ~ England's Euro 2012 qualifier in Montenegro tonight is unsurprisingly billed as "the match of the decade" by the local daily Pobjeda (Victory). While the game may well be "the biggest in the short history of the Montenegrin football representation" it is also acknowledged that the fixture is potentially not the most important of the forthcoming double-header. Defeat in Wales in the last round of matches – which resulted in the dismissal of remarkably successful coach Zlatko Kranjčar – means that Montenegro's game with Switzerland next week will probably decide which of these nations secures a play-off berth.

Montenegro's new coach Branko Brnović explains that "the match with Switzerland is key, but this does not mean that we won't also give our maximum against England". Noting that consecutive victories would result in his team winning the group, Brnović explained to Sportski ┼żurnal that although England represent extremely tough opposition, "miracles are possible if you believe in them". Who could deny this after Montenegro's spirited performance earned them a draw in the reciprocal fixture at Wembley? On that occasion left-back Milan Jovanović (not to be confused with his Serbian namesake) hit the crossbar and, while he shares the opinion that the Swiss match is crucial, he is keen to stress that "nobody thinks we should conserve ourselves against England". Jovanović, however, is one of three experienced players on yellow cards omitted for the England game.

Of course, for Montenegro to be in this position in the first place is a major upset for many. The nation only gained independence five years ago, and when they emerged from pot five to complete Group G few honestly expected them to challenge. However, while this former Yugoslav republic has a relatively weak domestic league, the national team contains players who play throughout the world. The preliminary 27-man squad included just four players who currently compete in the Montenegrin First League, while the remainder are spread across 14 different countries. The nation's status as footballing minnows is brought into question by the presence of several genuinely quality footballers, with Juventus' Marko Vučinić, Fiorentina's Stevan Jovetić and Manchester City's Stefan Savić – who opened his account against Blackburn last weekend – arguably the pick of the bunch.

In contrast to Montenegro's cosmopolitan team, the capital Podgorica has the feel of a small provincial city, with single-storey houses and bars dotted across the centre. Compared with other away fixtures in the Balkans this trip should be a relatively relaxed affair for England supporters. Nevertheless, inside the stadium the atmosphere will be white hot. At the earlier group match against Wales the visitors were greeted by a cauldron of noise, culminating in the simple but effective repetition of "Bellamy, Bellamy, Bellamy, Fuck you!"

I am sure that the volume will be turned up even higher for the visit of Fabio Capello's side and I would like to issue a word of warning to flag bearing England supporters – following Wales' visit, Wrexham fans presumably returned home empty handed after their flag was taken, mockingly inverted and then hung from the upper tier as a trophy by the resident ultras. The theft of opposition banners is a common practice used by supporters across the Balkans in order to demonstrate supremacy.But while the locals are experts at orchestrating a hostile atmosphere, their players are rather good at football too, as Wales, Bulgaria and Switzerland have each discovered to their cost. Richard Mills

Comments (5)
Comment by jertzeeAFCW 2011-10-07 13:15:19

Are England playing tonight then??

Comment by FCKarl 2011-10-07 13:26:53

Perhaps there could be an article on Euro qualifiers something like this: Where are the pleasant surprises? Every country that is supposed to qualify has. Practically with way too much ease. As has been documented on these pages, Italy has done it without even needing to show effort.

These qualifying groups are now dull affairs. 18-19 months (following the World Cup of 2010 in South Africa) of faux competition.

Is it all done for TV revenue then?

My belief: 16 finalists is too many. It is too many if you wish for the qualifying matches to reach the finals -- if you wish for these qualifiers to have any import.

This is why there is no overall fan buzz in these final, closing matches. Back in August 2010, a casual fan could have easily selected 9 or 10 of the 14 that will join Poland and Ukraine.

Comment by Dalef65 2011-10-07 18:22:26

FCKarl,

It seems we have even more tedium in store in the coming years....24 teams will qualify for Euro2016.
Theoretically this will make the qualifiers even less interesting and more stultifying...Unfortunately.
Although I have heard there is a revamp on the way...
How this will work is yet to be seen.........

Comment by FCKarl 2011-10-08 02:55:53

Yes, Dale, you are correct. I think I heard about the increase to 24 finalists at the same time that UEFA announced France as the host for Euro 2016. Oui, Monsiuer Platini had nuuuuttthhin tzo do with ze influence pour zis decision, non?

Let's see: Only about 55 Eurozone nations that actually wind up competing in qualifiers...End result: half qualify.

Somehow I think the UEFA bosses and those in France in particular look at the hosting of Euro 2016 with 24 nations present, with fans, entourages, the media presence frome those 24, travel packages, hotel stays, souvenirs, etc. as the mega-combo UEFA/Franco monetary stimulus package.

Over and over again the fan is presumed to be dumb.

Note: When you have teams like Greece that quality to reach the final tournament, you have anti football disgusting display on the pitch like the Greece - Sweden matchup in June 2008. That match was 'criminal.'

Comment by jameswba 2011-10-08 13:56:24

Agree in essence with Dale and FCKarl but, besides Montenegro, I'm counting on Armenia to finish 2nd in Group B (sorry Ireland fans) and qualify through the play-offs. Having seen them win 4-0 in Slovakia, I can verify that they're a great side to watch. Saying that, though, they'll probably go all dull and Greece-like if they do qualify.

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