Montenegro v England: Trash-talking Montenegro are running scared says Steven Gerrard
England dismiss jibes from World Cup opponents about arrogance and long balls as misplaced mind games
Steven Gerrard said tonight that England had got Montenegro "exactly where we want them" after manager Branko Brnovic produced a remarkable diatribe against Roy Hodgson's team before tonight's World Cup qualifier, accusing them of being scared and using long-ball tactics.
The England captain was responding to a press conference earlier in the day in which Brnovic accused the Football Association of arrogance because he was under the impression they had already organised friendlies in November, so confident were they of qualifying for the World Cup automatically, they had ruled out the possibility of having to go into a play-off.
Brnovic said: "I read statements from some English players about the way the pitch will look. As far as I know, it is the English who have always favoured long passes. This supports the idea that they're more scared of this game than we are."
Following torrential rain yesterday in Podgorica, Hodgson did inspect the pitch at the City Stadium before his press conference but said he thought it was in a good condition despite a patchy appearance. The England players trained on it last night with Glen Johnson, who has a toe problem, the only injury concern.
In response to Brnovic, Gerrard said: "I'm not really too interested in what they've got to say in their press conference. Or in ours, to be honest! I'm more interested in how the lads play in training and when the first whistle goes.
"With regards to his comments, it just shows we've got them exactly where we want them. They seem to be more interested in saying things and doing all the talking, but talking doesn't win you football matches. Going back to whether we play long balls, it's important to have a good mix, to play a certain way but also have a Plan B where you can go more direct."
Hodgson said that it was "definitely mind games, no doubt about that" by Brnovic but that it had "no effect on me whatsoever".
Hodgson said: "I would find it strange of anyone watching us at the moment that [long balls] is the first thing that would come into their heads. I prefer people to watch us and make their own judgements. Sometimes people like to make a comment that may have been more relevant in the past than it is today, but we have nothing to defend in that respect.
"We play the football we play. We think it is a good football. We think it is a football that will help us win matches. I don't really care too much if people want to label it long ball or short ball.
"What do they mean? People like Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick – I have seen them hit magnificent 30-40 yard diagonal passes to change the point of attack. Is that what they mean by long ball game? Or does it mean that every time we get the ball we kick it up field and run after it? I don't know."
You can follow all the action from tonight's game on The Independent with our live blog by clicking here.
Brnovic rejected any suggestion his players would try to goad Wayne Rooney, sent off in the Euro 2012 qualifier in Podgorica in October 2011. He said: "As far as I know, Rooney was the one who attacked our player last time, not vice-versa. Our strikers Stevan Jovetic and Mirko Vucinic always suffer strong kicks, but they never complain."
The Juventus and Montenegro striker Vucinic, whose side lead Group H by two points, said he was surprised Hodgson selected Joleon Lescott and Chris Smalling who were not regulars for their clubs. He said: "I certainly do see that as a source of weakness because, if they do not play for their own clubs, I don't see why their national coach should pick them. I'm sure the match would be better and more interesting if [Rio Ferdinand or John Terry] played because they are certainly among the best defenders in the world today."
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