Tuesday’s World Cup qualifying showdown between England and Montenegro has the makings of a heavyweight bout between two fierce squads. With so much on the line, everyone will have something to prove.
England sits just two points back of Group H leader Montenegro, and Tuesday’s match will either distance the Brave Falcons in the standings or move England ahead of them into first place.
Neither squad has lost a match in this year’s qualifying round. With three wins and two draws in the group stage, England has tallied 11 points and 20 total goals, while Montenegro has posted 13 points and 13 goals with four wins and a draw to its name.
The Three Lions are extremely hot right now after drubbing San Marino 8-0 in their last tilt. Montenegro is also coming off a win (against Moldova), but the Brave Falcons certainly didn’t display England’s impressive firepower in their 1-0 victory.
This matchup exemplifies the best qualities of the World Cup qualifying matches, and it will certainly be a fun one to watch. Let’s take a look at three players with plenty to prove in their attempt to notch a big win in the group stage.
Wayne Rooney: England
Manchester United forward Wayne Rooney returns to Montenegro with more to prove than any player on the pitch. After being sent off with a red card and a two-game suspension in England’s last bout with the Brave Falcons in the European Championships, Rooney needs to redeem himself (h/t Football.co.uk).
The 27-year-old is the Three Lions’ best striker, and after a morale-boosting 8-0 victory against San Marino, England will no doubt be in attacking mode against a much tougher opponent on Tuesday.
Rooney is the key to England’s offensive attack. He has the ability to create opportunities for everyone on the attack, though he’s also an able striker who knows how to finish. England will have to put the pressure on Montenegro from the onset, and it will start with Rooney.
Mirko Vucinic: Montenegro
Juventus striker Mirko Vucinic headlines a Montenegro squad that is much stronger than the sum of its parts. The Brave Falcons are a strong unit, but Vucinic certainly stands out as their best player.
The 29-year-old forward led Montenegro in its 1-0 victory over Moldova with the match’s only goal. While the Brave Falcons must get strong contributions from each of their players, Vucinic has to continue to lead their offensive attack.
Vucinic has averaged .32 goals per match in 396 career club appearances. With the Montenegro National team, the striker has averaged .47 goals per contest, netting 14 goals in 30 appearances.
Scoring will be hard to come by against England, and Vucinic has to play an aggressive brand of football to set the tempo for the Brave Falcons.
Steven Gerrard: England
Winning marquee matchups comes down to strong leadership from veteran players. For England, team captain Steven Gerrard will be expected to lead the Three Lions in their attempt to upend Montenegro on the pitch and in the table.
Gerrard has already taken to his captain role in pre-match preparations. After Montenegro coach Branko Brnovic claimed the English club is “scared” of its matchup with the Brave Falcons (per BBC.co.uk), Gerrard set the record straight with the professionalism expected of the squad’s captain (as quoted by Dominic Fifield of the Guardian):
With those 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. I'm not really too interested in what they've had to say in their press conference. I'm more interested in how the lads train at the ground on the night before the game and when the first whistle goes in the match itself.
The Three Lions have a lot to prove in their attempt to silence Brnovic and his team. After Gerrard’s response to his comments, the English captain will have to back up his words with a strong showing on Tuesday.