Two 2014 World Cup hopefuls will go head-to-head inside Wembley Stadium in London on Friday when England plays host to Montenegro in a pivotal UEFA Group H qualifying match.
England currently sits atop the group through eight matches, leading Ukraine and Montenegro by just one point. Fourth-placed Poland is just three points back. Consequently, the Three Lions, who will be without defender Ashley Cole, per Sky Sports Football, need to collect three points on their home soil in order to maintain their slender lead in the group and eventually secure a trip to Brazil.
England defender Ashley Cole will miss Friday's World Cup qualifier against Montenegro because of a rib injury. http://t.co/cD0PdAFTWl— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) October 7, 2013
The two nations met last March in Podgorica, Montenegro, but nothing was settled as each came away with one point following a 1-1 draw.
Roy Hodgson's men will host Poland at Wembley next week to conclude group qualifying but will want to widen their margin for error heading into their Group H finale. Meanwhile, Branko Brnovic's squad will be searching for three points of its own before heading home to wrap things up against Moldova on Tuesday.
Here, we'll get you ready with everything you need to know for Friday's high-stakes showdown.
Date: Friday, October 11, 2013
Time: 2 p.m. EDT, 8 p.m. CEST
Where: Wembley Stadium, London
Watch: FOX Sports 1 (U.S.), ITV 1 (U.K.)
Top Storyline: Group H Up for Grabs
No. 1 qualifies, No. 2 enters play-off
There'll be no escaping the pressure associated with the top storyline ahead of Friday's match. England, Montenegro, Ukraine and Poland remain in a dramatic four-way race to win Group H. There are a number of potential outcomes, but the easiest way to ensure a World Cup berth for either nation is to win out.
Fortunately for the Three Lions, their final two qualifying matches will be played in London, giving them an edge and making them the favorites to win the group.
As Montenegro striker Stevan Jovetic points out via The Guardian's Jamie Jackson, England will still have to perform at a high level in order to avoid settling for a play-off:
I think they have more pressure than us because they are expected to win -- and expect to win.
The fact that we have drawn three times with England gives us confidence for this game and the fact we have Moldova at home [next week]. England have us and then Poland. It is going to be a big fight to see which country goes through.
Although England have the tougher matchup next week, Jovetic and Montenegro will still need to bring their A-game to London on Friday in order to keep the pressure on.
England will be at a mighty advantage playing in front of an electric crowd at Wembley Stadium on Friday night, and that energy, combined with what's at stake, should be more than enough to propel the Three Lions to a huge victory.
Although last March's showdown in Podgorica was even throughout, Wayne Rooney and company certainly had their chances, possessing the ball for significant stretches and coming away with 14 total shots.
Look for that number to increase at Wembley on Friday.
After all, Roy Hodgson's squad boasts more talent in midfield and more weapons at the top of the lineup. Plus, England has yet to lose a match in Group H, winning four and drawing four.
England 2, Montenegro 1
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