Frustrated England fire blanks against Montenegro
Capello’s men put in a performance that harked back to the World Cup as they were held at Wembley
England 0 Montenegro 0. So much for the green shoots of recovery. After England had started their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign with encouraging wins against Bulgaria and Switzerland, the Three Lions turned in a performance against Montenegro on Wednesday night that was as bad as anything seen in the World Cup.
The goalless draw at Wembley means England lie second in Group G, three points behind Montenegro but with a game in hand. Should Fabio Capello's men slip up in any of their remaining five qualifying matches they'll probably need to reach the finals in Poland by the play-off route.
Capello admitted afterwards that it wasn't the display he had hoped for but was quick to remind people that Montenegro – who have not conceded a goal in their four qualifying matches – are not quite the minnows they are made out to be by the British tabloids. "At the moment Montenegro is a wonderful team. A really compact team which works a lot, runs a lot," Capello told reporters, adding: "Sometimes little countries produce good players... psychologically, they're on a real high at the moment. They've won their last three games. They played here stronger, compact, and the quality of their play was really good."
Capello rejected suggestions that England were as bad against Montenegro as they had been in drawing 0-0 to Algeria in the now infamous World Cup match four months ago. "Against Algeria we didn't create a lot. Tonight we did and their goalkeeper was really good," said the England coach. "The goalkeeper was Montenegro's best player. We have to accept this. This is football. It's not boxing where you win by punching the opponent more."
Only 73,000 of Wembley's 90,000 seats were taken for the game and at the end of the match the fans made their displeasure known, booing the England players from the pitch after an insipid display. True, the home side should have had a penalty when Montenegro's Milan Jovanovic handled the ball in his area ten minutes from time, but the same player then almost hit the winner for his side with a thumping 25-yard shot that crashed against England's crossbar.
And while the visitors' keeper Mladen Bozovic made good saves in the second-half from Wayne Rooney and Gareth Barry, England didn't deserve three points for a performance that lacked wit and imagination against Montenegro's well-organised defence. It was also the first time England have failed to score at Wembley since it was renovated three years ago.
Adam Johnson and Steven Gerrard tried their hardest to drag England from their torpor but with Wayne Rooney having another ineffectual night and Peter Crouch looking off the pace, the home side lacked sharpness up front. And the frustration was writ large on captain Rio Ferdinand's face after the game as he railed against the German referee's failure to award England a penalty. "He [Jovanovic] might as well have caught the ball, put it under his shirt and run home with it," said Ferdinand, who also admitted the side hadn't played well. "It feels a bit like a setback, yes... we really should be winning games like that." ·
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