Second-half comeback from Montenegro cancels out Wayne Rooney's opener in Podgorica
Montenegro 1-1 England
FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014
8pm, Tuesday 26 March 2013
City Stadium, Podgorica
By Nicholas Veevers
England’s World Cup double-header ended in disappointment in Podgorica, where a draw with Montenegro wasn’t enough to overturn the host nation’s lead at the top of Group H.
Roy Hodgson’s side knew that a win would be enough to see them leapfrog Montenegro into top spot and it was all going to plan at half time.
Wayne Rooney scored for the fifth successive game in England colours to give his side an early lead in a first half dominated by the Three Lions.
But it was Montenegro’s impressive resurgence after the break which had England on the back foot and it was no surprise when sub Dejan Damjanovic scrambled home an equaliser with 15 minutes to go.
There was a late spell of pressure from England, but a winning goal would have been cruel on Montenegro whose spirit shone through in the second half after an indifferent opening to the game in front of a passionate and intense home support.
In a bid to try and silence the crowd, England were quickly out of the traps and caught their hosts out with a blistering start.
With less than three minutes on the clock Rooney spotted Mladen Bozovic off his line and when the ‘keeper stumbled over back-tracking to goal, executed an almost-perfect chip from the right only to see it clip the outside of the post and bounce to safety.
Bozovic then showed more assurance as he tipped Glen Johnson’s scorching left-footer over the bar after Steven Gerrard’s initial corner was knocked out to the right-back.
And England took advantage of that, with Gerrard’s flag-kick picking out a criminally unmarked Rooney in the box. He needed no invitation and directed a header past Bozovic to give his side the perfect start.
England were enjoying full possession and control of the game at this stage, and continued to pose a threat to the Montenegrins, particularly with the movement and link-up play of Rooney and the pace of Daniel Welbeck.
On more than one occasion, Welbeck broke through behind the defence to cause problems and with half time just a few minutes away, he was tripped in the box by Stefan Savic.
All eyes turned to the referee, but instead of pointing to the spot, he harshly chose to book Welbeck for an alleged dive. And England would be left to rue that decision.
After their dominant first-half display, Hodgson will have drilled into his side the importance of building on their lead and to expect a certain improvement from Montenegro.
And the home side were much brighter too, with Savic’s deep cross picking out Stevan Jovetic at the far post from which the forward directed a header into the side-netting moments after the re-start.
Montenegro looked a different side and began to galvanise their fans, with Joe Hart being given more to be concerned about as Jovetic again came close with a left-footer just wide.
Captain and talisman Mirko Vucinic then had an even better chance in the 59th minute, firing over the bar from close range with the goal at his mercy after a corner dropped to him in the area.
England’s first real sight of goal in the second half came in the 66th minute, when Rooney forced Bozovic into a save with a free-kick from 25 yards.
But English nerves were soon tested further when Hart fumbled Vucinic’s tame effort with 20 minutes to go, before the same player curled a low shot narrowly wide of the post seconds later.
Hart then had to save well from Jovetic’s half-volley, before his header clipped a post from the resulting corner.
The equaliser was inevitable and it arrived in the 76th minute, when another dangerous corner from Elsad Zverotic picked out Damjanovic.
His first header was superbly saved by Hart, but when the ball bobbled back out to the sub he made no mistake from close range after a goalmouth scramble.
The goal seemed to liven up England and they went on to have their best spell of the second half in the final ten minutes.
Gerrard led the charge, as he saw a low drive fly just wide from 25 yards before stinging the hands of Bozovic with a left-foot volley two minutes from time.
And the captain was denied again in stoppage time, as Bozovic tipped his free-kick over the bar with England looking to steal a dramatic winner.
It wasn’t to be though, as a tiring Montenegro desperately held on for the result which keeps their lead in tact at the top of Group H.
Montenegro: 1 Mladen Bozovic, 3 Marko Basa, 5 Vladimir Volkov, 7 Simon Vukcevic (22 Milos Krkotic, 63), 8 Stevan Jovetic, 9 Mirko Vucinic (C), 17 Elsad Zverotic, 13 Mitar Novakovic (14 Dejan Damjanovic, 46), 19 Vladimir Bozovic (10 Andrija Delibasic, 75), 20 Miodrag Dzudovic, 21 Stevan Savic.
Substitutes not used:12 Srdjan Blazic, 6 Ivan Kecojevic, 11 Fatos Beqiraj, 16 Blazo Igumanovic, 4 Milan Jovanovic, 18 Filip Kasalica, 23 Vukasin Poleksic
England: 1 Joe Hart, 2 Glen Johnson, 3 Ashley Cole, 4 Steven Gerrard (c), 5 Joleon Lescott, 6 Chris Smalling, 7 James Milner, 8 Michael Carrick, 9 Danny Welbeck, 10 Wayne Rooney, 11 Tom Cleverley (20 Ashley Young, 77).
Substitutes not used: 12 Kyle Walker, 13 Ben Foster, 14 Leighton Baines, 15 Steven Caulker, 16 Frank Lampard, 17 Scott Parker, 18 Leon Osman, 19 Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, 21 Jermain Defoe, 22 Daniel Sturridge, 23 Fraser Forster.