Roy Hodgson‘s England are ready for what is their biggest test yet since he took over last summer as they face Montenegro in a vital World Cup qualifying match.
Hodgson may have already managed England at Euro 2012 and against various bigger-named opposition since his arrival, but this is likely to prove a defining moment.
With Montenegro two points clear at the top of group H, the result will mark the beginning of who has the work to do as the road to Brazil really gets going. It’s as much of a high-pressure game as England have had since last summer, and Hodgson is left with little room for error.
Having had two of their three wins coming against San Marino, England’s group position is a long way from comfortable, albeit you can only beat what is in front of you; but having drawn with both Ukraine and Poland, England really need to kick on tonight if they are going to take control of the group.
Montenegro may not sound like the most powerful of footballing nations, but in this qualifying campaign so far, they have silenced critics. They have a talented front-line pairing of Stevan Jovetic and Mirko Vucinic, both top European strikers playing in Italy‘s Serie A.
There is no doubt of the threat that they possess, especially when combined with the hot-blooded atmosphere that was seen when the Three Lions last visited Podgorica in 2011. England were held 2-2 then and Wayne Rooney‘s frustration was evident as he lashed out and was sent off with a swing of his right foot.
Montenegro manager Branko Brnovic has chosen an early tactic of attempting to rile up England via mind-games. He claims England are a long-ball side with a strong fear of the task ahead.
If this was a year or so ago I would agree, but since then Hodgson has rejuvenated the England side into a confident squad full of enjoyment and trust that they have the talent to take on the world. We saw this vs Brazil last month, as England showed a passing style and flow that had been a rare sight; but, given the fact that the now injured Jack Wilshere was at the heart of that midfield, it’s not quite the same.
However, England have a dynamism and attacking threat from various positions that Brnovic should probably be a little more wise about. If it’s not Rooney or Danny Welbeck causing a threat then it’s Jermain Defoe, and you can add various others to that list such as Steven Gerrard, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ashley Young.
The mind-games from Brnovic for me will probably increase his side’s game and their support level rather than diminish England’s ability to get the job done.
But the truth is England have little room for error tonight. A slip-up and you’re looking at a situation that is painfully reminiscent of the Euro 2008 failings. With some tough games to come later in the year there will always be a chance to turn things around, but to depend on those fixtures would be a frantic situation.
England have the talent and a mindset to cope with the pressures of such a fixture. Question marks are placed on the centre-back pairing of Joeleon Lescott and Chris Smalling, but they’re not exactly weak.
I have full confidence that they can get the job done in Montengro; they just need to execute those beliefs, please.