England must beware Montenegro’s twin forward threat

by Alex Richards

We are very dangerous with counter-attacks. 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.

So said the Montenegro coach Branko Brnovic ahead of his sides game with England in Podgorica on Tuesday evening, and whilst Brnovic has done a remarkable job with the national side – coming from a population of just over 600,000 – the 45-year-old is no doubt indebted to his sides two star players: Mirko Vucinic, the 29-year-old mercurial Juventus forward and Montenegro captain, and his strike partner, the Fiorentina talent Stevan Jovetic (23).

Whilst the two banks-of-four that Brnovic usually employs is best described as workmanlike, it is the front pairing of the Serie A duo that really elevates the Montenegrins to a higher plain, and has made them viable contenders for top spot in Group H, far ahead of both Euro 2012 co-hosts, Poland and Ukraine.

Vucinic, a €15m signing for Juventus in the summer of 2011 from Roma, is the elder statesman of the duo, and a player who, if you ask regular watchers of the Serie A champions, is capable of exciting and frustrating in equal measure. From the Dimitar Berbatov school of body language, Vucinic was a key member in the Turin club’s Scudetto success last year and his mixture of technical ability, vision and flexibility in fulfilling a number of roles across the frontline have marked him out as a key component of Antonio Conte’s Old Lady over  the past 20 months.

Additionally, when his country has needed him since their independence in 2006, he has more often than not been there, a case further confirmed by his goal that ensured 10-man Montenegro emerged with a 1-0 win in Moldova on Friday evening, keeping them atop the Group H table.

Jovetic, rated in the region of £20m and continuously linked with a move away from Florence to the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City (although his international strike partner has made no secret of his desire for ‘JoJo’ to join him in Turin) is a player with similar attributes to his partner, although the fluctuations in form aren’t as wild. Extremely gifted technically, he has a penchant for the spectacular, is physically much stronger than he looks and is particularly adept at finding space where there appears to be none. A cruciate ligament injury in 2010 has seemingly been overcome, and he has been the spearhead for an impressive debut season in-charge of the Viola for Vincenzo Montella, the former Italian international striker.

Although on paper the duo appear too similar to make a partnership – usually strike duos have differing skill sets that compliment one another – their mutual understanding and ability to combine and share duties during matches – both are capable at leading the line, dropping into a deeper role as a creative number 10, or can drift into wide positions to create overloads down the flanks – has seen them develop into an international-calibre matchwinning partnership.

With England’s central defence likely to have something of a makeshift feel about it given the much-publicised withdrawals in that area, Hodgson’s side will have to be at their most vigilant defensively if they’re to negate the threat of Montenegro’s two star forward.

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