By Neil Leverett
- England face Montengro in the Euro 2020 qualifiers at Wembley Stadium on Thursday evening
- Victory for Three Lions will guarantee passage to next summer’s European Championships as Group A winners
- Raheem Sterling omitted after altercation with Joe Gomez last weekend
WEMBLEY STADIUM, LONDON, England’s men are within 90 minutes from a place at Euro 2020, as the Three Lions face Montenegro at Wembley on Thursday in their 1000th international.
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Three Lions within sight of Euro’s
As the final international break of 2019 swings into top gear, England will look to seal their place in next summer’s 2020 European Championships as they face Montenegro at Wembley Stadium on Thursday night.
Despite having lost their first qualifier in almost a decade during the last international hiatus, the Three Lions bounced back in emphatic fashion in Sofia last month in a Raheem Sterling-led 6-0 hammering of Bulgaria, overshadowed again by continuing racial tensions towards England’s players.
Still sitting top of Group A by three points – and as their nearest rivals the Czech Republic travel to Kosovo on Thursday evening also – Gareth Southgate‘s men can seal a place at next summer’s continent-wide Euro 2020 with a win under the Wembley Arch.
With a trip to Pristina to face the Kosovans themselves next Tuesday, that game may become somewhat academic for the hosts, however with problems beginning to mount defensively for England, the final round of Group games presents the chance to rectify matters.
Milestone for English football
Thursday evening also sees the Three Lions reach a unique milestone, with a home meeting against the Brave Falcons seeing England clock up their 1000th international game.
Stretching back to the inception of the national game in the 19th century, England played out the very first contest against Scotland, as the two bordering nations and the joint-oldest teams to play in national colours in the world.
As England celebrate their 150th anniversary in 2022, the country that invented the game still waits for their second piece of major silverware after a 50-plus year drought, which during a 149-year period has seen England play almost every recognized FIFA nation on the planet.
Whilst their biggest victory came in a 13-0 decimation of the Irish national team – as it was known until 1950 – ten years after the international game began in 1882, England’s biggest defeat came in 1954, thrashed 7-1 by a rising Hungarian side in Budapest.
As the players walk out onto the Wembley turf this Thursday evening, a unique aurora will take residence in North London, with players and fans old and young watching on as England take the next step in their storied footballing history.
They will do so without Sterling, who after last weekend’s on-field spat with teammate Joe Gomez in last weekend’s Liverpool versus Manchester City Premier League clash, has been omitted by boss Southgate as a means of punishment.
Reacting angrily to a taunt by the Liverpool defender late on at Anfield, the former Reds’ forward had to be restrained after words were exchanged at close quarters. The two have trained together since at St. George’s Park this week.
Sterling’s rare showing of aggression went without a caution last weekend, however his actions brought England into opting to leave the player – whose fortunes have transformed in the past two years – out of Thursday’s milestone game.
But as Southgate himself told BBC Sport, the England coach intends to take Sterling as his side travel to Kosovo later this weekend, stating the player’s continued efforts in training are testament to Sterling’s professionalism.
“We move forward. The way he’s trained has been exemplary.
He’s with the group, that’s the most important thing. He’s a massive part of what we do – has been, will be. He’s with us for the game tomorrow. He’s back with the team on the training pitch enjoying his football.”
Eastern European double
As England line-up a double against former Yugoslav republic nations, first up on the agenda comes Montenegro, as Faruk Hadzibegic‘s men arrive in London already out of qualifying contention for next summer’s tournament.
With just three points from seven games, Montenegro have scored just three times in Group A, whilst shipping 15 goals in all outings. As they wrap up their campaign at Wembley, the now independent nation will be looking to avoid another drubbing after a 5-1 loss in Podgorica to the Three Lions back in March.
Still shorn of captain and record scorer Stevan Jovetic through continuing injury absence, the South-Eastern European side lack household names, however in Stefan Mugosa Montenegro have a decent marksman who has netted 18 goals this season for Incheon United in Korea.
With a squad playing their domestic footballing across the continent including in Spain, Belgium, Russia and Sweden, 26-year-old goalkeeper Danijel Petkovic has been part of a Angers side who have very much been the surprise package in France so far this season, with the Montenegrin stopper leading his side to third in the Ligue 1 standings. West Ham United fans will be keeping an eye out also for Sead Haksabanovic who is on loan at IFK Norkopping.
England and Montenegro have met as individuals nations just five times previously, and whilst the Three Lions have won their last two meetings by handsome scorelines, in the three meetings prior, a trio of draws split the sides including in a Euro qualifier in 2010, when Fabio Capello‘s men were left frustrated with a goal-less draw at Wembley. But these are two very different sides today.
England face Montenegro in the Euro 2020 qualifiers on Thursday night at Wembley Stadium, kick-off time 19:45 UK time.
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