Gerrard bites back at Montenegro jibes
England were accused of being arrogant, scared and simply a long-ball team as Montenegro coach Branko Brnovic launched an extraordinary attack before tonight's pivotal World Cup qualifier and sparked an immediate response from Steven Gerrard.
Montenegro captain Mirko Vucinic also joined the verbal offensive by admitting that he was baffled that England were likely to select two centre-backs in Chris Smalling and Joleon Lescott who are not currently able to get into their club teams.
The Juventus striker described England's central defence as "a source of weakness" and is adamant that all the pressure tonight will be on Roy Hodgson's team.
England skipper Gerrard responded last night with laughter to the "long-ball" jibe and then insisted that Brnovic's provocation was a sign of Montenegro's weakness. "It just shows we've got them exactly where we want them," said Gerrard.
"They seem to be more interested in saying things and doing all the talking, but talking doesn't win you football matches."
Montenegro lead England by two points in Group H and have clearly been irritated by concerns over both the pitch and the expectation of a hostile atmosphere in Podgorica tonight.
"We respect and appreciate the English team but even more so we appreciate our own qualities," said Brnovic.
"I read statements from some English players about the way the pitch will look. As far as I know, the English have always favoured long passes. I can't see who is first in line to complain about this. Us, who have Vucinic, (Stevan) Jovetic and (Marko) Basa, or England?
"This is something to support the fact they're more scared of this game than we are. They're also intimidated by our fans. I don't see any reason for that."
Montenegro know that England have been talking to Germany and Argentina to play friendlies on the same dates as the World Cup play-off matches in November.
If England remain second to Montenegro in the group, they will be in those play-offs to decide whether they qualify for Brazil rather than taking part in prestigious friendlies.
"Perhaps after the game with us tomorrow they will have to cancel them, and they may suffer a penalty," said Brnovic.
"We are the leaders in our group – we're not chasing anything and we have nothing to prove."
There is clearly also annoyance at the suggestion that Brnovic's players would deliberately try to incite Wayne Rooney. Former England striker Alan Shearer said that Montenegro would "kick, scratch and abuse" Rooney to provoke a reaction – he was sent off for kicking a Montenegro player on his previous visit to Podgorica.
"Rooney was the one who attacked our own player, not vice versa," said Brnovic. "I can say that such English legends, and also journalists, are already trying to resort to excuses for what happens."
Vucinic was equally bullish and pointed out that Montenegro's entire population (632,261) is less than the total number of people who play football (1.6 million) in England.
"We're not scared," said Vucinic. "If we fail tomorrow it won't be as big a problem for us as it would be for England. They'll be five points behind if we win."
Dejan Savicevic, the president of the Montenegrin FA, last night issued a plea for the home supporters to "cheer and support our players in a sporting manner".
In the past 19 months, the Montenegro FA have been fined £76,000 for a series of incidents, notably a pitch invasion and the throwing of fireworks and seats. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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