Mean defence and sharp strikers will make Montenegro's pan-Europeans hard to beat

 

Montenegro will go into Tuesday's game in the hotbed of Podgorica on a run of eight unbeaten matches and in fine heart. On Friday they won 1-0 in Moldova to remain two points clear of England in Group H, Mirko Vucinic scoring the only goal after Milorad Pekovic had been sent off for a second yellow card.

Pekovic plays for Furth in the Bundesliga, and as our graphic illustrates, a squad of players increasingly well regarded is spread around clubs all over Europe and in one case, South Korea. The three best appear regularly in Serie A: midfielder Stefan Savic and the striker Stevan Jovetic – much admired by Arsenal among others – at Fiorentina, and leading goalscorer Vucinic at Juventus. For a time, such diversity – only one player actually has a Montenegrin club – was a handicap, but now the squad appears to have knitted together with great success.

The country's football team split from Serbia only in 2006, and the 2010 World Cup was their first competition. A 0‑0 draw at Wembley in October of that year was raucously celebrated, the 2‑2 draw against England at home in 2011 even more so, as it meant that they would qualify for a play-off, which the Czech Republic won.

Zlatko Kranjcar, father of the former Tottenham and Portsmouth midfielder Niko, was replaced as coach by his assistant, Branko Brnovic, and Montenegro have not lost in their eight games since, scoring in every one and keeping four successive clean sheets to put a first tournament finals in view.

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