UEFA: Montenegro still perfect in Group G
Mirko Vučinić’s 67th minute winning goal against Switzerland on Friday night saw the Montenegro national team make it three wins out of three matches in the current Euro 2012 qualifying campaign. Having already beaten Wales and Bulgaria in the previous two matches, the win against Switzerland sets up an intriging clash between the new Group G leaders and the only other team with a 100% record in the group England. Tuesday night sees the top two go head-to-head at Wembley Stadium in what should be a coming-of-age clash for international football’s newest national team.
Following many years of representation under different names the newly-independent state of Montenegro is finally starting to find its feet in the world, not just as a country but in the world of football. Montenegro voted for independence in 2006 having been a part of a wider nation with Serbia following the dissolution of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 2003. Since then Montenegro is trying to copy other states in the region in trying to make its mark on the wider world and football is one of the most prominent ways of being noticed on the international stage. Croatia, for example, has always used football as a way of creating an image for itself and other newly-independent states such as Bosnia-Herzogovina and Macedonia are trying to do likewise. What makes the case of Montenegro special is the rate of success in such a short time.
Having joined UEFA in January 2007 Montenegro have climbed from an initial 199th (i.e. last) place to a respectable 40th in the latest FIFA World Rankings. Montenegro’s first official match as an independent nation came against Hungary just two months later and they managed to claim the scalp of their opponents winning 2-1. It is perhaps fitting that the country’s best known player, Mirko Vučinić, was the man who scored the country’s first ever goal in international football and he’s been putting them away for the Montenegrins ever since. Vučinić, who plies his trade in club football with Italians AS Roma, has scored eleven goals in 23 international appearances including two crucial strikes that have helped decide games. As well as the current good bout of form in this qualification campaign the federation has begun a programme of development they have appointed former Crvena Zvezda and AC Milan legend Dejan Savićević at the helm as president.
Although Montenegro could only finish fifth out of a six team group in the FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign it has proved a useful introduction to life at this level and they are now reaping the benefits in the UEFA Euro 2012 campaign. The opening game against Wales saw Vučinić score the only goal after thirty minutes in Montenegro’s 1-0 win in front of a home crowd in the capital Podgorica. The next test looked quite daunting, an away tie against experienced campaigners Bulgaria, but the hosts flopped and were unable to break down a compact, organised Montenegro defence. Elsad Zverotić’s goal from distance came against the run of play and it ultimately proved enough for Montenegro who sealed a second consecutive 1-0 victory. Last night saw another narrow one goal victory for Montenegro who put Switzerland to the sword and it was Mirko Vučinić who pounced once again to claim another three points for his country. Switzerland, who beat future FIFA World Cup champions Spain in their group in South Africa this summer, were humbled by Zlatko Kranjčar’s men and remain without a point after two games. Kranjčar has only been the coach of this team for nine months having taken over from previous coach Zoran Filipović in February 2010 and he is blessed with having a good collection of players who include AC Fiorentina striker Stevan Jovetić, midfielders Simon Vukčević from Sporting Lisbon and Vladimir Božović from Rapid Bucharest.
Montenegro can now travel to London and take on an England team who are still trying to get over the World Cup disappointment but who have also started off with a perfect 100% record following convincing wins over Bulgaria (4-0) and Switzerland (3-1). Tuesday’s game will be one to watch in the next round of matches in Euro 2012 qualifying.