When was the last time you could remember such sustained, and valid optimism, around this England side? Perhaps in the lead up to the 2006 World Cup, when England were 8/1 second- favourites – yes, really – to take tournament glory.
An inspiring run to last season’s semi-finals was perhaps tinged with disappointment at the fact they didn’t make the final, but since then they have only kicked on rather than regressed. A tough draw in the Nations League brought out the best in them, with a fine 3-2 win in Spain and a gutsy 2-1 victory over Croatia that turned what would have been a relegation into a group victory.
They have been given a less taxing assignment on paper in their Euro 2020 qualifying group, and they started with a win – as expected – against the Czech Republic on Friday, but the sheer manner of their display in a 5-0 win has set imaginations alight again.
Raheem Sterling’s virtuoso performance underlines how he has become a complete forward under Pep Guardiola’s guidance at City, with a hat-trick making it 24 goals for club and country this season, and he was ably backed up by Harry Kane, who gave a complete performance including a number of fine touches from deep.
That pairing give England two world class forwards but there’s able support with the exciting Jadon Sancho and Dele Alli who managed to work out a few cobwebs with a good hour and Ben Chilwell and Jordan Henderson were two others that shone in a great display.
Facing Montenegro will be a much different task, however. The last time the Three Lions travelled here, a disjointed and sloppy performance, to which most England fans had become accustomed, saw England drop two points on the way to the 2014 World Cup – and we all know how that ended.
It is not a stretch to say this is a different side and a better one, but a sterner test than last Friday lies in wait. Montenegro have a realistic chance to make it through to Euro 2020 and they started well with a deserved 1-1 draw away to Bulgaria.
With some luck – Todor Nedelev’s late penalty to equalise for the hosts was not without controversy – they might have taken three points and it will not have escaped Gareth Southgate that the hosts were stubbornly held for 82 minutes. There’s also a reasonable amount of quality with Nikola Vukevic, Marko Jankovic, Adam Marusic and Marko Jankovic all playing in top leagues, although manager Ljubisa Tumbakovic will be hoping Atletico Madrid’s Stefan Savic is fit, having missed the draw in Bulgaria.
Montenegro v England
UEFA EURO 2020 Qualifier
19:45 ITV 1 HD
HEAD TO HEAD RECORD
(Maximum 10 matches)
OCT 2013 WORLD CUP 2014 QUALIFYING England 4-1 Montenegro
MAR 2013 WORLD CUP 2014 QUALIFYING Montenegro 1-1 England
OCT 2011 EURO 2012 QUALIFIYING Montenegro 2-2 England
OCT 2010 EURO 2012 QUALIFYING England 0-0 Montenegro
The hosts will put up a stiff resistance but they need to give performances more like the one they did on Friday rather than their form in 2018, when they won just two matches, both against Lithuania. England can beat a one-goal handicap if they keep their foot on the pedal.
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