Fabio Capello's England are one point away from securing their place at the Euro 2012 jamboree. And here they are in Podgorica tonight, going after it. They really want that point!
If they make it - which, given their excellent away form in this qualification campaign, seems more likely than not - they'll be looking forward to their first jaunt to the Euros since David Beckham skied that penalty against Turkey in Istanbul, then got involved in a skirmish with light entertainment's Alpay at half time, on the way to a 0-0 draw that booked their place in Portugal. You'll remember what happened last time round, of course, thanks to our picture clue. Seems a long time ago now, no?
Having said that, Montenegro are well equipped to cause England maximum hassle. They proved themselves a royal pain in the harris at Wembley last October, making off with a 0-0 draw, Milan Jovanovic unlucky not to steal victory at the death by hitting the bar. Mirko Vucinic of Juventus and Stevan Jovetic of Fiorentina will require some handling by England's youthful back line tonight, and if Montenegro emerge victorious, they'll only need to win in Switzerland to usurp England at the top of the group.
Montenegro: Mladen Bozovic, Zverotic, Djudovic, Savic, Kascelan, Vukcevic, Pekovic, Vladimir Bozovic, Beciraj, Jovetic, Vucinic.
Subs: Blazic, Jovanovic, Batak, Djalovic, Damjanovic, Cetkovic, Delibasic.
England give a debut to Phil Jones, while Frank Lampard continues to sit on the bench, kidding on he doesn't care: Hart, Jones, Terry, Cahill, Cole, Walcott, Barry, Parker, Young, Bent, Rooney.
Subs: Carson, Jagielka, Baines, Lampard, Downing, Welbeck, Zamora.
Referee: Wolfgang Stark (Germany)
Kick off: 8pm.
Relevant news coming in from Finland, where Sweden have won 2-1. That result means England can't qualify as best runners-up tonight, should they get beaten. "You'd have thought the Swedes would be happy with the Nobel literature prize," writes our man on the spot, Philip Cornwall, "but no, they have to ruin it for football nerds, too." Philip has also been kind enough to send in a pic of where he's sipping his boose. His assumption? "There are a lot of Barnet fans in Podgorica." All signs certainly point to yes.
Pre-match surgery (featuring a real doctor, and a quack): Poor old Phil Sawyer! He's got the sniffles. "How unfair are colds that come on on a Friday afternoon?" wails our patient, Derek-and-Clive lengths of mucus trailing from his nose. "It just seems so unfair. I mean, I don't mind being ill on work time, but at the weekend? The worst thing is it'll probably clear up just in time for Monday morning. Anyway, I feel in the need of a good pick me up to lighten my mood. The large bottle of brandy sat next to me reflects my faith in England's ability to provide it. Having said that, not a bad looking team Capello's put out." Well, you'll be glad to hear we've got a proper pukka doctor in the house tonight, Phil. However, he doesn't agree with your prognosis. "I can't see the logic behind Mr.Capello's team selection," hums Dr Manoj Joseph. "As a Manchester United fan I am happy for Phil Jones, but why exactly has he been picked ahead of Kyle Walker and Micah Richards? Does he really think that a debutant being played out of position will do a better job than specialist players who are both currently in good form? Senseless yet again from Mr Capello." Well, there you have it, Phil. Dr Joseph's said bugger all about your cold, you'll note, so Dr Murray prescribes the brandy. Drink all the brandy. You'll feel as though you've got the strength of a thousand men afterwards. [Legal disclaimer: The Guardian accepts no responsibility if you drink all the brandy and do not feel as though you've got the strength of a thousand men afterwards]
The teams are out! England's anthem,
the theme tune to Last of the Summer Wine God Save The Queen, is followed by Montenegro's effort, a grand if gloriously morbid Soviet-style number, which stops suddenly and unexpectedly. Maybe the band have decided to end it all. What a couple of tunes. We could have been doing with something more upbeat for a Friday night.
And we're off! England get things underway, playing in dark blue and blue. Montenegro are in all red. "I wish you were my local GP," says Phil Sawyer, looking at his brandy.
1 min 50 sec: What a start this could have been to Phil Jones' England career. He bombs down the right, full of intent, cuts into the area, and from a tight angle, practically on the byline, whips in a cross. The ball's hit straight at Mladen Bozovic, who nearly fumbles the ball into his own net. The corner's wasted, but this is a positive start from England.
4 min: Walcott and Young diddle around down the left, to win another corner for England. From the set piece, Young has a dig from the edge of the area, the ball deflected just wide left of the target. The keeper Mladen Bozovic was wrong-footed there, rooted to the spot. Had that deflection been on target, England would be a goal up. They're not messing about here.
6 min: I should have pointed out that it's tipping down. Bent knocks down a long ball for Walcott on the edge of the area. Walcott takes a first-time shot at goal. The effort's straight at Mladen Bozovic, who you could be forgiven for thinking is Montenegro's only player out there. He fumbles the wet ball away from danger, and - hello, another Montenegrin - Savic hacks clear. The home side haven't started yet.
8 min: Finally, a surge from the home side. Jovetic dances down the left, turning Jones this way and that. The ball's finally sent into the area for Vucinic, who spins around in a circle and so nearly bursts clear on goal, albeit at a very tight angle. Cahill is across quickly to cover before the striker can get a shot away.
11 min: GOAL!!! Montenegro 0-1 England This was so simple. And it had been coming. Walcott is in acres down the right. He swings in a delightful cross, finding Young on the far post. Young can't miss, heading home from six yards, the only Montenegrin anywhere near him, Vladimir Bozovic, sitting on the wet turf like an upset toddler. That was abysmal defence from the home side, who were all over the shop.
13 min: England are hogging the ball. The home support are very quiet at the moment. Maybe they should blast up the anthem again, which, as Marie Meyer agrees, is "terrifying. Black-winged agents of Satan bursting through my living room windows would not surprise me now." Have you been at Phil Sawyer's cheap brandy?
16 min: Vucinic clips a cross into the area from a deep position on the left, but there's nobody in there for the home side. Montenegro look a bit stunned at the moment.
18 min: Another run from Walcott down the right. He's got the run of the place here. A low cross into the six-yard box isn't dealt with by the keeper, or particularly well by Dzudovic, who stops the ball dead, teeing it up six yards out for anyone rushing in! Luckily for Montenegro, there are no blue shirts nearby to pounce.
21 min: A long ball down the inside-left channel. Jovetic hares after it, but the excellent Jones is wise to his game, and nips in ahead, stooping to nut the ball back to Hart, who on the evidence presented so far may as well not have bothered turning up.
25 min: Another corner for England, this time down the right. Young whips it in. Terry takes it down at the near post, and is allowed to dribble around like a winger for a while. The home side are abysmal in defence tonight. Eventually Zverotic comes across and bundles the ball out of play. Another corner. Which is wasted. "My missus has just noted that Montenegro's anthem sounds melodramatically OTT enough to soundtrack a slo-mo fight scene from '300'," writes Nick Pettigrew. "It's proper scary. TREMBLE, MORTALS!!!!!" Indeed, it's a great anthem. You're not going to mess with anyone from Montenegro after hearing a few bars of it, are you. By comparison, the plodding English anthem is barely more threatening than the Baby Elephant Walk.
28 min: Montenegro win a corner! Vladimir Bozovic makes room for himself down the left and curls a peach of a cross towards the far post, forcing Cole to head behind. From the set piece, the ball's worked back to Vukcevic deep on the right, from where a cross is slung into the box. Beciraj gets his head to it, but Jones - who is absolutely everywhere - bullies him into heading well wide right. "I must protest in the strongest possible terms to your assumption that I am drinking cheap brandy," blubs Phil Sawyer from his sickbed, "based merely on the flimsy evidence of MBMs and OBOs passim. I may be treating my symptoms with finest cognac. Oh, all right, I'm not. It is cheap brandy."
30 min: This is a slightly better period for Montenegro. Beciraj isn't far from breaking clear down the inside-left, but Barry is across to cover and snuff out the problem.
32 min: GOAL!!! Montenegro 0-2 England. So much for Montenegro's slight improvement. This was as easy as you like. Rooney, in the middle of the park, 30-odd yards from goal, slides a pass to Young down the inside left. He meets the ball level with the six-yard box, and slides a pass into the centre for Bent, who taps into an empty net.
35 min: Vucinic tries to trap a long ball down the left and break clear, but he takes the ball down with his armpit and is flagged for handball. There really isn't much happening for Montenegro at all. "I think what Phil Sawyer really needs is some homemade brew, you know, that clear stuff in a bottle with no label," writes Paul Taylor. "My wife's uncle (from Slovenia) made a wicked one that would leave you gasping with each swallow. Just don't try driving home afterwards." Surely even Po' Phil, nursing his 2l bottle of Aldi Brandy Flavoured Turps, wouldn't consider taking a nip from a bottle with no marking?
38 min: A period of possession for Montenegro. England are happy enough to sit back and watch them ping passes around the centre circle, for their opponents appear to have little idea how to get any further forward.
41 min: Just a lot of aimless hoofing at the moment. "Theo Walcott is a conundrum, isn't he?" asks Joshua Collis, before answering his own question. "Reminds me of a formula one car in the 70s: rare fast, but terribly unreliable. On those odd days where everything comes together, he's a sight to behold. But most of the time he's in chicanes of his own making, or propelling himself into a gravel trap by the corner flag."
43 min: Montenegro finally have a shot. You'll notice that sentence didn't end in "on target". Kascelan's the man, swinging a leg at the ball 30 yards out; the ball flies 30 yards wide. A terrible effort. The crowd are very quiet indeed.
45 min: GOAL!!! Montenegro 1-2 England. They're not so quiet now! Beciraj crosses into the area from the right. Zverotic chests down and aims for the bottom-right corner. The effort's going a bit too much down the middle for Montenegro's liking, but Cahill sticks a boot out, his studs deflecting the ball into the corner Zverotic was going for in the first place. Game on!
HALF TIME: Montenegro 1-2 England. Well, that puts a different slant on things. At least it shut the England band up for a while.
If you can pull yourself away from that bad jazz, we're off again. A change for Montenegro: Milan Jovanovic, who hit the woodwork at Wembley, is on for Kascelan. Meanwhile here's Phil Sawyer on The Bottle With No Name: "Oh yes I would."
46 min: Still not exactly a belter of an atmosphere. A lot of aimless passing at the start of the second period isn't helping. "I think the clear stuff in a bottle in Slovenia is probably Slivovica (or Slovovice/Slivovitz) which will not only put hairs on your chest it will cover your entire torso and incidentally remove all pigment from your mouth and start a few nearby brush fires," reports Simon Adelman. "Yes, it's that strong. Good though and bizarrely made from plums. A Slavic equivalent of Scrumpy Jack perhaps but the kind that's kept in basements and is only loosely relates to apples. Steve McClaren could have used some in his darker days."
47 min: Wales are beating Switzerland at the moment, Aaron Ramsey with a penalty on the hour, the Swiss down to ten men as a result. All good news for Montenegro with the play-offs in mind. "My Austrian father in law drinks Rowanberry Schnapps," writes Nic Clifton. "Given that Rowanberries are poisonous I have tried to avoid it, but it has a fearsome reputation." And this, Sawyer?
49 min: Beciraj is found with the ball at his feet just to the right of the England D. He nudges the ball inside, and unleashes a low shot goalwards. Hart gathers, with the ball flying towards the bottom right corner, but only at the second attempt. "The Co-Op in Stoke village, Plymouth had an alluring aperitif sandwiched between the gin and vodka labelled 'White Spirit Drink'," writes Andy Underwood. Marvellous. And you know what we're going to ask you, yes? "Yes I did. More than once."
51 min: Beciraj nearly breaks clear down the right twice. Vukcevic nearly sets Beciraj clear into the area, prompting from the edge of the area. Then Vukcevic slips a ball down the inside-left channel for Jovetic, who is upended by a very clumsy challenge from Jones. The referee isn't having any of it, but that looked like a penalty. A large dash of beginner's luck for Jones.
53 min: The busy Beciraj cuts inside from the right, dancing across the front of the area. He should be dispossessed by Cole, but the England full back hesitates, and allows himself to be brushed off. Beciraj shapes to shoot from a central position, but can't get his foot around the ball and his effort screws wide left in the most ugly fashion. Montenegro have come out with all guns a-blazing here. Maybe they listened to another quick blast of the national anthem.
56 min: Pekovic sashays down the left and dinks a ball into the centre for the lurking Vucinic. Terry clears. The ball's soon coming back at England through Vukcevic, but his dink forward towards Beciraj is cleared up by Cole. This is a very decent response from the home side. "That rolling picture fanciness is having the same effect on my system as a bottle of cheap brandy," writes Dennis Mumby. "It's making me queazy! So, mission accomplished, then. It's certainly moving faster than Montenegro's defenders."
60 min: Jovanovic is booked for a witless check on Walcott. He'll miss Montenegro's final game in Switzerland. "Okay, maybe I'd draw the line at Poison Berry Schnapps," admits Phil Sawyer. "I'll take some of Andy Underwood's White Spirit Drink though. That reminds me of the rather dubious Italian vodka (no, really) that my local off-licence got in. On the back was the legend 'Vodka. Ingredienti: Vodka'. That stuff sorted the men from the boys, I can tell you. It also stripped the gums from your teeth."
61 min: Young is replaced by Downing. Young is wearing a proper face when he leaves the pitch, though it's hard to know why, because when he reaches the bench the physio starts giving him a bit of treatment. Meanwhile Wales are now 2-0 up against the Swiss, Gareth Bale with this one on 71 minutes. A point tonight for Montenegro will confirm their berth in the play-offs, providing Wales don't find a way to cock things up from here.
63 min: Vukcevic romps after a long ball pumped straight down the middle. It nearly does for the England back line, Cahill and Terry rocking back on their heels. Hart is out quickly to the edge of his area to claim the ball and see off the danger. But that was close.
64 min: A couple of changes: Damjanovic replaces Beciraj, while Lampard replaces Bent.
65 min: Rooney, eight yards out, looks to latch onto a deep cross from the right, but the ball's dinked away from him at the last. Corner. Cahill meets the left-wing delivery, heading powerfully wide right. "The king of sketchy spirits has to be the Polish Spirytus, weighing in at 96%," writes Johnathan Kaszynski. "It is indescribable." Oh I don't know, you've given it a fair sell there.
67 min: Is it a shot from Vladimir Bozovic on the left? Is it a cross? It doesn't go in, though Hart had a concerned look as it loops over his bar and wide. "Great call with the Baby Elephant Walk, I loved Hatari as a kid," writes Colm Green. "The only thing that that dire, blood soaked plodding dirge GSTQ used to be good for (other than hilariously imploring the Anglican god to protect the head of the Anglican church) was forcing the Scots sing the verse about Marshall Wade. But if England adopted The BEW, surely they would be far more welcome visitors to foreign shores, because it's very difficult to act like a sub Danny Dyer cretin if you have as your anthem a piece of 60s orchestral lounge jazz. As a resident of one of Europe's many smaller countries, I think we'd all be happier if the major nations of Europe, traded in their warlike triumphalistic anthems and went for an Italian style piece of light comic opera. or a trashy camp disco number."
70 min: It's in a bit of a lull, at the minute, this match. England appear to have popped a lid on Montenegro's fire. "Home-made slivovice (60% plus stuff) when added to hot water and naturally juiced apple-lemon-ginger juice becomes slivo-VIRTUE, a sure fire cold remedy, good for colds and for BATTLE FEVER," writes Greig Aitken. "Slivo-virtue is to the whisky toddy what Jock Wallace is to Craig Levein."
73 min: WAYNE ROONEY SENT OFF!!! A completely deserved red card for this eejit, who miscontrols, then hacks Dzudovic's right leg from behind in a fit of totally needless pique. It's a highly comical slapstick moment, with a sort of boot-up-arse comic timing that should be soundtracked by a swannee whistle, but that's about all I can say in favour of it. England's best player will now miss at least one match at the finals, should England get there.
76 min: Walcott is replaced by Welbeck. "I live in Vancouver now but nice to see a mention of Stoke Village Co-op," writes Anthony Clifford. "I too tried the white spirit drink but never, ever saw it in another branch. Strange place though, for sure, so wouldn't be surprised if they made it out the back with a mixture of domestic cleaning supplies."
78 min: Montenegro are streaming forward, but England are packing their defence. Not much is being achieved at present. "Truth be told it was a 'Clear Spirit Drink' but my teeth are still white to this day," writes Andy Underwood. "I keep them in a Bryant's matchbox, but, my, how they shine."
79 min: Delibasic replaces Vladimir Bozovic. "I once saw a litre bottle of vodka for sale in Vermont for about 10 dollars," reports Bob Hynes. "I thought this was too good to be true so I looked at the label. At the bottom it said, 'Made in Hull'."
82 min: A scramble or two in the English area, Vukcevic getting his head to a right-wing cross at the far post, Vucinic nearly taking control of the rebound before being crowded out. This is going to be a hairy final few minutes for England.
84 min: Delibasic, level with the right-hand post, heads centrally for Damjanovic, who scissor kicks over the bar from close range. The goal wouldn't have counted, as he was offside, but what a miss nevertheless.
87 min: Pekovic picks up the ball down the inside-left channel, reaches the edge of the area, and looks for the bottom right corner. His shot is tipped around the post brilliantly by Hart. "I reckon Rooney was reading the MBM at half time and got an unstoppable thirst on," suggests Dominic Wright. "Just had to get off asap for some liquid refreshment. No other explanation."
88 min: From the corner, Damjanovic dinks a ball down the inside-left channel for Jovetic, who rushes into the box and goes to ground under a brush from Cahill. This time, it was never a penalty, and the Montenegrin is booked for his trouble. Terry, calming influence that he is, comes in to give Jovetic a piece of his mind, and isn't far from giving him a piece of his forehead too. Great captaincy, John!
90 min: GOAL!!! Montenegro 2-2 England. Well, this had been coming. Savic is in acres down the right. He sends a beautiful cross to the far post, past the flailing Hart, and the confused Cahill, for Delibasic to crash a header home from a couple of yards out. England are still heading to the finals - unless they concede in the next couple of minutes, that is.
90 min +2: This is the second of three added minutes. "Quick," jabbers Nigel Mitchell, "someone get Fabio an umbrella!"
FULL TIME: Montenegro 2-2 England. Phew, what a half of football. What a farcical half for England, who qualify for the finals, but won't have Wayne Rooney available for all the games: he'll receive a minimum one-game ban. Daft, daft, daft. Montenegro meanwhile are sure of the play-offs, and are celebrating accordingly. There's a party going on in Podgorica tonight, with both sides taking away a prize and raising a glass to their achievement. No warm cup of Co-Op White Spirit Drink for Wayne, though, he's been a naughty boy.