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- Aug 1, 2010
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England's opponents have made no secret of their tactical plan for Tuesday: pack eight men behind the ball, leaving Stevan Jovetic and Mirko Vucinic up front to do their thing
Strike pairings have become desperately unpopular in recent years. Once forwards were regularly spoken of in twos – Ian Rush and Kenny Dalglish, Gary Lineker and Peter Beardsley, Niall Quinn and Kevin Phillips – but since playing five in midfield became the most common way of playing, strikers were left as lone wolves, often embodying both facets of the old-school pairings.
Montenegro will line up against England on Tuesday though with a bona fide front two – and, given Stevan Jovetic and Mirko Vucinic are their best two players, it is a pairing that has developed over the course of the past six years and could go on for the same period again. They make a slightly unusual duo, though: the partnerships of old tended to be made up of complementary types – a target man and a quick man or a scheming creator and a rapid finisher – but Jovetic and Vucinic have similar attributes.
They can both play at the point of the attack, they can both play deep and they can both play wide. Both are technically gifted, both are more physically robust than they appear and both are capable of the spectacular. Beyond the likes of his countryman Dejan Savicevic, Jovetic modelled his style on Andriy Shevchenko – a much more flexible footballer than he is often thought of, indeed Valeriy Lobanovskyi hailed him as the archetype of universality – when he was developing while he picks out Wayne Rooney as his preferred England player and Robin van Persie as the best player in the Premier League: all three, significantly, are goalscorers who are capable of acting as creators.
Jovetic and Vucinic could easily have ended up occupying the same space but their long time playing together has led to mutual understanding and fluidity: either can appear in any forward position at any time. "Stevan and I play close together in the national side and we often switch positions," said Vucinic, who has made little secret of the fact that he would like to entice Jovetic to Juventus if, as seems likely, he leaves Fiorentina in the summer. Arsenal are one of a number of Premier League clubs who have been tracking the 23-year-old, and have been linked with a £20m summer move.
Branko Brnovic, the Montenegro coach, is well aware where the strength of his side lies and has been open about his tactical plan: pack eight men behind the ball, leaving Jovetic and Vucinic up front to do their thing. That was how they played even in Moldova, where the solidity of their defence was demonstrated by the way they not merely held out but also scored a winner after being reduced to 10 men by the sending off of Milorad Pekovic after 61 minutes.
Given Montenegro lead England by two points in the group, the suggestion is that Montenegro would be quite happy with a draw – the result in both games when the sides met in Euro 2012 qualifying. "We are in a good position and have great confidence," said the goalkeeper Mladen Bozovic. "We've had an excellent introduction to playing the English. It'll be a big challenge to face them again but we have drawn twice against them and I hope we can achieve a good result for a third time. We'd be happy with a point but when we play in front of our crowd and the stadium is filled, then anything is possible."
Brnovic preached a similar message of caution. "We are leaders, we can be patient and there is no need to go forward from the start," the coach said. "England must attack. Most important thing is not to concede and I am sure we will have space upfront. We are very dangerous with counterattacks. Jovetic and Vucinic against Moldova didn't show what they can do, I am sure they will have extra motivation against England after the big win in Chisinau. We will maybe park a bus in defence, but we also have two Ferraris in attack."
They will not have the suspended Pekovic, though; he is likely to be replaced at the back of midfield by Krasnodar's Nikola Drincic with Elsad Zverotic of Young Boys, who scored against England in Podgorica in October 2011, playing advanced of him. The other Montenegrin goalscorer from that game, Andrija Delibasic, has had an itinerant career but remains a dangerous substitute.
"This is a massive game for us and our fans," said Jovetic. "I'm proud that we host such a great team as group leaders. We have showed that we can play against England. Now we have a lot of self-confidence. We are very close to play-offs and with a positive result against England we will fight for first place in the group."
There is understandable caution to his words but, having missed out on the Euros in a play-off against the Czech Republic, Montenegro can dream of automatic qualification. Their tradition is extraordinary given a population of 650,000 but opportunities with two such gifted players as Jovetic and Vucinic in peak form may not come again.
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