England v Montenegro: Visiting coach tempers his words and his optimism ahead of Wembley showdown
Friday 11 October 2013
The Montenegro coach, Branko Brnovic, resisted the temptation to tear into England for a second time as he contemplates the monumental task of leading his patched-up team to victory at Wembley and possibly taking over top spot in World Cup qualifying Group H.
Prior to the reverse fixture in March, Brnovic aimed a furious tirade at England, branding Roy Hodgson's side arrogant long-ball merchants who were riddled with weaknesses.
But the 46-year-old was completely unrecognisable from that cocksure figure. He refused to be drawn on the England goalkeeper Joe Hart's recent poor form and the idea of winding up Wayne Rooney, who received a two-match suspension for kicking the Montenegro defender Miodrag Dzudovic in 2011.
"I don't want to talk about any English players," said a frustrated Brnovic after being hit with questions about the home side. "I will concentrate on my team."
That team is nowhere near as strong as the one that gave England a real fright in March, when Montenegro put in a very impressive second-half performance to earn a 1-1 draw that could well have ended up being a win.
Their captain, Mirko Vucinic, the Lille centre-back Marko Basa and midfielder Miodrag Pekovic are all injured while Dzudovic may also miss out. "I'm sorry we are not complete. I was planning to play one great match," Brnovic said.
The coach cut a downbeat figure throughout his short media conference at Wembley – but there was a burst of laughter when he duped a reporter into believing Vucinic would start, only to reveal afterwards that it was a joke.
There was another bit of comedy when Brnovic was asked about the possibility that his team could freeze in front of an almost sold-out 90,000 crowd at Wembley. "It's OK, we brought some jackets with us," he said with a smile. "Every single player is looking forward to it. You cannot play every day at Wembley. This is an important match. Even if we don't succeed we did a great job in these qualifiers and this team has a bright future."
One crumb of comfort for Brnovic is that Manchester City's Stevan Jovetic is available despite recent fitness worries. The striker seemed more upbeat about Montenegro's chances of claiming what would be a historic win for the Balkan nation, who did not play their first recognised international match until 2007.
"It's true we're missing important players and we know England are strong; we've played them three times and drawn three times. But I'm sure we can still play a good game. We will play our best and try to win and I think it will be perfect."
As for his City team-mate Hart, Jovetic still rates the stopper highly despite recent errors. "Joe Hart is one of the five best goalkeepers in the world," said Jovetic. "He's a good guy. He's not perfect, he can make mistakes but I haven't spoken to my team-mates about that. We don't think he has problems."
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