• Montenegro prioritise final qualifier against Switzerland
• 'We are not scared of anybody,' says coach Branko Brnovic
The Montenegro coach, Branko Brnovic, will field a weakened team against England on Friday night amid concerns that key players who are one booking away from a suspension might be ruled out of their final qualifying tie in Switzerland next week.
Brnovic, who replaced Zlatko Kranjcar as manager last month, intends to rest the first-choice defenders Milan Jovanovic and Marko Basa, together with the midfielder Nikola Drincic, with the last two among nine Montenegro players who are one booking away from a ban. Montenegro can still mathematically overhaul England at the top of Group G but, with a gap of six points from the summit and three from third-placed Switzerland, they appear to be prioritising securing a play-off place by avoiding defeat in Basel on Tuesday.
Kranjcar's tenure as coach was undermined by a draw at home to Bulgaria and a loss in Wales in his last two competitive matches, results which prompted the Montenegro Football Federation president, Dejan Savicevic, to claim the team were in "freefall" having effectively offered the Swiss a chance to catch up.
"Those results damaged us because the points have disappeared, and now we are faced with our two most difficult opponents in the last two matches," said Brnovic, the former assistant manager of the national team who will be in charge of a side for the first time at any level. "But I have been forced to make these changes because I can't risk all eight players being suspended for our last game.
"So we are resting the three players thinking about the Switzerland game. It's something I have to do. If we knew the Swiss would definitely not win in Wales [tomorrow], I'd put out the team which would create so many more problems for the England team than they expect. But I still strongly believe in the team I'm putting out in this game. The fighting spirit that we have is in our genes, so I know what to expect from my players. I have the knowledge of the qualities of our boys.
"They've been together for the last five years, I know their qualities and their strengths. If we had the whole squad at our disposal, we could even have beaten England. But the guys we do have available tomorrow still have the quality to surprise the English side. I'm sure of that. England are a very strong side in every way, but we have found their weaknesses and we will try to exploit them."
Montenegro, who drew 0-0 at Wembley a year ago in the midst of a fine start to the qualifying section, can at least turn to the talented Juventus forward Mirko Vucinic for inspiration. The attacker, who interested Arsenal over the summer only to complete a €15m (£13m) move to Turin from Roma, had missed that game in London through injury but will pose a considerable threat to the visitors in Podgorica. "Montenegro are not scared of anybody," he said. "We weren't afraid when we were at war, so we won't be afraid of this."
Vucinic has expressed his admiration for Wayne Rooney but Montenegro plan to starve England's top forward of possession – "He is a player who can do everything, but he cannot do anything without the ball." "There is no player who can't be stopped," said Brnovic. "Rooney is one of the best strikers in the world, a fantastic striker, and their other strikers are fine players. But they will have their own problems thinking about how to stop Mirko and [Stevan] Jovetic. I know very well the qualities of my own forwards. Rooney, I have only seen on the television.
"But we know what we must do. England have scored in the first 15 minutes of every away game they've had in this group, which is down to the naivety of the home teams who get caught up in the emotion of the occasion and attack without thinking. England have punished them because they have quick players on the break who can counterattack as a strong weapon. We must remain in control of our emotions and stick to our tactics to exploit their weaknesses."
Montenegro (4-3-2-1; probable) M Bozovic; Pavicevic, Savic, Dzudovic, V Bozovic; Zverotic, Pekovic, Novakovic; Vukcevic, Jovetic; Vucinic.
Substitutes from Blazic, Jovanovic, Pejovic, Basa, Batak, Drincic, Kascelan, Grbic, Cetkovic, Damjanovic, Dalovic, Delibasic, Beciraj.