The shorts are off again unless England can tame Montenegro's 'Snake'
Vucinic, the visitors' star player, promises to repeat unusual celebration if he scores at Wembley tonight
Tuesday 12 October 2010
Mirko Vucinic has promised to whip off his shorts and put them on his head if he scores at Wembley tonight, but if that happens it will be England manager, Fabio Capello, and his team who will be looking exposed.
No one could possibly complain that they had not been warned about Montenegro's most famous, and most dangerous, player – their captain and national hero, a man who loves the limelight so much he celebrated his goal in Friday's 1-0 win over Switzerland by prancing around in his smalls.
The Roma striker has been the inspiration behind Group G leaders Montenegro's remarkable rise up the Fifa world rankings, from 199th to their current position of 40th, ahead of Romania, Scotland and Peru, since splitting from Serbia three years ago.
Vucinic scored the first goal in the newly independent country's history with a penalty in the 2-1 victory over Hungary in March 2007 and has continued scoring ever since, with 11 goals in 22 international appearances.
The bigger the stage, the better he plays, for Vucinic has also developed a habit of scoring in key games for Roma, with vital goals in the Champions League against Chelsea (two), Manchester United and Real Madrid in the Bernabeu. He also scored the winner against Wales in last month's Euro 2012 qualifier, a wonderful solo goal.
Vucinic's style is to be canny and elusive. He tends to drift out wide towards his favoured left flank to pick up the ball, a position in which he regularly plays for Roma. This could cause problems for England should right-back Glen Johnson venture too far forward.
During his time at Lecce, Vucinic was nicknamed "the Snake", as a result of his ability to slip in undetected and score from unexpected angles. He is not that strong, nor is he good in the air, nor does he possess outstanding pace, but he loves to run at players and he is gifted with wonderful close control.
Capello said recently he has been watching the striker for some time. "Vucinic is a very dangerous, quick player in front of goal. I saw his capabilities when I was in Italy and his scoring record in Serie A, the Champions League and in international football is impressive," the England manager said.
Switzerland's right-back Scott Sutter, who faced Vucinic on Friday, said the Montenegro team is fashioned around its biggest star – and he knows it only too well.
Sutter said: "We knew before the game he would drift across to the left a lot. He anticipates the right-back going forward and slots into the hole. That pinned me back a bit. He is a world-class player. When he gets the ball and runs at you, it is difficult.
"He's the star. He knows it, everyone in the team and everyone in the crowd knows it. He plays for Roma, he is worth a lot of money and he has been banging in goals for years. It will be interesting to see what England's tactics are with him. Glen Johnson and Ashley Cole love to go forward and it will be difficult. They will have to close him down and deny him too much space."
Vucinic has spent most of this season so far on the Roma bench, following the arrival on loan of Marco Borriello but he came on to score a late diving header to beat the European champions Internazionale 1-0 last month to remind manager Claudio Ranieri of his goalscoring ability. Vucinic has been taking his frustrations out on the international stage this season, and has promised he will strip off again should he score tonight. It may not be quite the full Monty, but it would certainly leave England vulnerable to headlines accusing them of being "pants".
Vucinic said: "What we have achieved in the group so far is incredible. After the draw was made nobody would believe we could arrive at Wembley with nine points. I was not being disrespectful with the way I celebrated against Switzerland. Every player has his own style. But we believe that we can beat England and that would be a stunning result all over Europe.
"If I score the winning goal I will not be able to resist producing the same goal celebration. This is a historic game in our country with the biggest TV audience ever. But with the way we have started, I think we can win the game. If so, we will then be in control of the qualifying campaign and England will be scrabbling around for points.
"England are massive favourites but we are super-confident that we can win. We are a young side with a lot of ambition and we are not troubled by failure. That is what the England team have to deal with. The whole of Montenegro will go mad if we win the game."
Onus on full-backs to provide width
England's likely attack tonight has a more narrow look to it than usual. In the middle Peter Crouch is less inclined to work the channels than, for example, Bobby Zamora, preferring to remain central where his height advantage can be utilised. Wayne Rooney is prepared to hunt the ball butneeds to stay close to Crouch if their partnership is to function. On the flanks both Adam Johnson and Ashley Young will be inclined to come inside on to their stronger feet.
All of which places an onus on Glen Johnson and Ashley Cole to get forward to supply the width England are likely to need. But while both are comfortable going forward neither are over-lappingfull-backs in the old-fashioned mould, looking to hit the byline and cross. Crouch and Rooneyare, therefore, likely to be supplied by deep crosses from Adam Johnson and Young, or low cut-backs from the full-backs.
1 Became the first player to score for Montenegro after his penalty put them ahead in the 2-1 friendly win over Hungary in March 2007.
11 Goals in 22 games for Montenegro, making him the fledgling national team's record scorer.
53 Goals in 121 matches for Roma since joining the Serie A side in August 2006 for a fee that rose to £10m.
14 League goals for Roma last season saw him tied as joint top scorer for the side with Francesco Totti.
2 Goals in Montenegro's three qualifying fixtures so far, helping the team go top of Group G.
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