Montenegro can shock arrogant England once again, claims former boss Kranjcar

By Joe Bernstein for the Daily Mail

Montenegro put the greatest result in their short history, last year's 0-0 draw at Wembley, down to complacency from Fabio Capello's England.  

So when the teams meet again in England's final decisive Euro 2012 qualifier in Podgorica on Friday night, Capello's players should be careful to avoid statements like the one made by Ashley Young following England's 1-0 victory against Wales in September. 

The Manchester United winger's comment about the forthcoming tie in Montenegro which England need to draw to guarantee their qualification for Euro 2012 might have seemed harmless enough.

Stalemate: England were held to a 0-0 draw by Montengro at Wembley last year

Stalemate: England were held to a 0-0 draw by Montengro at Wembley last year

But any repeat this week of his confident words: 'I'm sure we'll come away with three points if we put in a good performance' will unquestionably be perceived as English arrogance by a small but fiercely proud nation.  

Zlatko Kranjcar, father of Tottenham and Croatia midfielder Niko, was Montenegro's manager for their historic draw at Wembley; which was an astonishing result for a country of just 685,000 people, fewer than the county of Devon. 

Frustration: Wayne Rooney was kept quiet

Frustration: Wayne Rooney was kept quiet

He readily admits that nothing fires up the Montenegro players like being written off as no-hopers, as the team nickname The Brave Falcons would suggest. Any suggestion of complacency from England will be used against them.   

'It's normal for a big team to underestimate a small one. That motivated my players hugely against England last time,' said Kranjcar. 'When they got to London, they heard and read that England were sure to win. It didn't dishearten them, it gave them courage. They went on the pitch without any pressure, just to prove people wrong.

'We spoke about it in team meetings, that England thought it was an easy game. The players were aware of it.  

'I don't know how much of this feeling came from the England players and how much was the press building up but it didn't matter. Like any manager, I used it to motivate my players and used it to our advantage.  

Did you know...

England's 0-0 draw against Montenegro last October was the last time Rio Ferdinand captained England in a competitive game and it was the first and so far only cap won by Bolton's Kevin Davies.

'It will be similar in Podgorica. If England are 100 per cent focused, they should win. But if they are complacent, the Montenegro team can surprise them. They have shown their quality in this group.'  

It is a sadness to Kranjcar that he will not be in the dug-out opposite Capello this time. In one of the harsher sackings of the season, he was dismissed after last month's 2-1 defeat in Wales, even though Montenegro are still second in the group, three points ahead of Switzerland in the play-off spot. If Montenegro beat England, they will qualify ahead of Capello's men with a win away to Switzerland on October 11.

Watch what you're saying: Ashley Young's words were used against England

Watch what you're saying: Ashley Young's words were used against England

Kranjcar studied England closely before their last encounter and has useful tactical tips for his successor Branko Brnovic, having got the better of Capello last time. 

'I thought England were strong in wide area, particularly with Ashley Cole and Ashley Young down the left, so our plan was to keep very tight to them, to stop the service coming into Wayne Rooney.  

That's one way to stop him: Stevan Jovetic (left) in action for Fiorentina

That's one way to stop him: Stevan Jovetic (left) in action for Fiorentina

'Rooney is a great player but if he can't get on the ball near the goal, what can he do? We were fortunate that he was going through a difficult phase last year, he is better with his form now. But we could see he was the leader on the pitch, all the other players looked to him to do something. When he couldn't the whole team was frustrated.' 

So frustrated that Capello was forced to throw on Kevin Davies of Bolton in the closing stages to try and batter the opposition. It remains Davies' only cap for his country.  

Dangerman: Striker Mirko Vucinic (right) joined Juventus in the summer

Dangerman: Striker Mirko Vucinic (right) joined Juventus in the summer

Even with injuries to Glenn Johnson, Jack Wilshire and probably Steve Gerrard this week, Capello still has an embarrassment of riches with Champions League players like Frank Lampard not guaranteed a place.  

But Kranjcar is quick to remind England fans that Montenegro also have some outstanding individuals including £30million Chelsea target Stevan Jovetic, who missed the Wembley game with a serious knee injury.  

Montenegro's four to watch


Skilful striker in the mould of Sergio Aguero. Rated at £30million and coveted by Chelsea, he has returned from a serious knee injury to score against Wales last month. Scored both goals in a Champions League win against Liverpool in 2009.  


27-year-old striker who was a huge success in six years at Roma before joining Juve this summer. Also missed the game against England at Wembley. The top scorer for Montenegro with 11 goals since they were admitted into Fifa in 2007, the year after they declared independence from Serbia  


Played a record 26 times for Montenegro, signed for Blackburn from Sporting Lison towards the end of the last transfer window and made his debut in the 4-3 win against Arsenal. A skilful midfielder, his first Rovers goal came against Leyton Orient in the Carling Cup  

STEFAN SAVIC (Manchester City)

Roberto Mancini has high hopes of Savic following his £6million move to City from Partizan Belgrade. Capable of playing at right-back or in the centre of defence, Savic was a stalwart in the 0-0 draw at Wembley. Renowned for his  timing and positioning, tough tackling and composure on the ball.

'I think four of the Montenegro players could get into the England first XI,' says Kranjcar. 'Jovetic of Fiorentina and Mirko Vucinic of Juventus are fantastic strikers, in the same class as Rooney. They can dribble, they can score goals. Marko Basa is a defender with Lille and playing in the Champions League – he is excellent. 

'And I know Joe Hart is a very good goalkeeper but Mladen Bozovic is also fantastic – he made some great saves from Wembley.'  

In addition, Montenegro now have two players with Premier League experience; young Manchester City defender Stefan Savic and Blackburn's Simon Vukcevic. 

'Savic is a wise head on young shoulders. Vukcevic is technically very good but has to learn to fight in the English league. They need to build a team around him and he could go the top.' 

The Podgorica Stadium only holds 12,000 but the atmosphere will be red-hot with supporters virtually on top of the players. However, Kranjcar does not necessarily think that will be to the home side's advantage.

Highly rated: Manchester City defender Stefan Savic scored last weekend

Highly rated: Manchester City defender Stefan Savic scored last weekend

'There was no pressure on the team at Wembley. But the fans in Montenegro will want the team to go forward this time. They think they should be attacking England, Germany, Brazil, all the big teams. It might not help.  

'The other advantage for England is they need a draw to qualify. But a draw may also be good for Montenegro. If Montenegro lose, they could get overtaken for second place by Switzerland.'  

Kranjcar played for Dinamo Zagreb and Rapid Vienna, where he was a member of their 1985 European Cup-Winners Cup final team defeated by Everton.  

The insider: Blackburn's Simon Vukcevic

The insider: Blackburn's Simon Vukcevic

As a manager with great experience – he took his native Croatia to the World Cup and has also won their league with two different clubs as well as managing in Iran, Egypt and Austria – he offers an interesting insight why someone with Capello's track record has not done it with England.  

'Capello has built his teams from the back, developed a system where his team controls the matches. Then, when you are on top, you will score goals.  

'But the English game isn't like this – the players take risks, they go forward. I think it has taken time for the two different styles to hit it off.'  

Kranjcar was extremely well-paid by Montenegro compared to the average worker there - £250,000-a-year – but it would have still taken him 96 years to earn the same money Capello will take home in his four-year contract with England.  

Unlucky: Zlatko Kranjcar (right) was sacked by Montengro after defeat in Wales

Unlucky: Zlatko Kranjcar (right) was sacked by Montengro after defeat in Wales

It is not the money he will miss on Friday night but the challenge of putting one over on England.  

'I took Montenegro from 80 in the world to number 25,' he says sadly. 'We were fifth seeds in our group behind England, Switzerland, Bulgaria and Wales but we were top for a long time and are still in second place.  

'I came back from a scouting trip in Basle and took a phone call on the Friday night, five days after we lost to Wales. It was the Montenegro FA secretary, I still had no idea he was going to give me the sack. I was shocked.'  

And his prediction for Friday?

'England lost at home to Croatia, they drew with Montenegro. They should have learned their lesson and not be complacent. If they are serious, I think they will get a narrow win. But if not, you know what can happen in football.' 

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