England braced for Montenegro 'dogfight'
Updated: 2013-03-26 08:02
By Agence France-Presse in Podgorica, Montenegro (China Daily)
Four days on from its 8-0 rout of San Marino, England faces a potentially decisive World Cup qualifier on Tuesday against a Montenegro side that will not be anywhere near as obliging.
With four games still to come in Group H, it is too soon to cast the game as a make-or-break encounter, but the ramifications for success and failure are vastly different.
Win, and England will go top of the group, ahead of a kind run-in of fixtures that will see it play three of its final four matches at home.
Lose, and it will allow Montenegro to streak five points clear in the contest for the one and only automatic qualifying berth.
Montenegro, 28th in the FIFA rankings, avoided defeat in its two encounters with England in qualifying for Euro 2012, and its Podgorica City Stadium is expected to provide a hostile setting.
England manager Roy Hodgson, however, says his side has been ready for a scrap ever since the start of the qualifying campaign.
"We always knew this was going to be a bit of a dogfight, so only time will tell whether we can afford to lose Tuesday's game," he said.
"But we are not going there to lose. If Montenegro want the three points they will, hopefully, have to play very well, or we will have to have a very bad day. We have no intentions of having a bad day. We are going into the game with confidence."
Hodgson is expected to make as many as six changes to the side that demolished San Marino, although centre-back Gary Cahill and forward Theo Walcott will both miss the game through injury.
The England manager also revealed that Liverpool right-back Glen Johnson should be fit to play, having been excused from duty in Serravalle to rest a toe injury, although he may need a pain-killing injection.
"We hope it will get better in the next couple of days," Hodgson said.
"If it doesn't, it might need an injection, but there is no problem."
On England's last visit to Podgorica, 17 months ago, it recorded a 2-2 draw that allowed it to secure a place at Euro 2012, where it reached the quarterfinals.
However, the game was marred by the dismissal of striker Wayne Rooney for recklessly kicking out at Montenegro defender Miodrag Dzudovic.
In anticipation that Hodgson's men will once again face an intimidating atmosphere in the Montenegrin capital, England captain Steven Gerrard urged his teammates to keep their heads.
"It is important we keep 11 men on the pitch because it is going to be a very difficult game," he said.
"They will be trying to claim every decision, every foul, and they will be trying to intimidate the ref to make rash decisions. I'm sure we will have a good ref in charge who will make sensible decisions, but it's important we keep our cool and keep everyone on the pitch."
(China Daily 03/26/2013 page22)