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Montenegro hold England to scoreless draw at Wembley

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Associated Press
10/12/2010 6:21:01 PM
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Memories of England's woeful World Cup performances were revived by a stuttering 0-0 draw Tuesday against a Montenegro side which halted a perfect and powerful start to European Championship qualifying for Fabio Capello's team.

And the visitors from the tiny Adriatic nation accomplished something football powers Brazil and Germany could not: prevent England from scoring for the first time in 21 matches at the new Wembley Stadium.

While the result preserved both teams' unbeaten starts on the road to the Euro 2012 finals, Montenegro tops Group G thanks to a hat trick of 1-0 wins and having played a game more than England.

Capello's team, which opened its qualification campaign by comfortably disposing of Bulgaria and Switzerland last month, couldn't find a way to break down a well-organized Montenegro team missing its best player, striker Mirko Vucinic, through injury.

England captain Rio Ferdinand accepted it just wasn't good enough.

"We really should be winning games like that," Ferdinand said. "We didn't quite manage to put the ball in the net. Maybe we tried too hard to please the manager and the fans."

Wayne Rooney came closest for England in the second half when he was denied from close range by goalkeeper Mladen Bozovic's one-handed save, while Peter Crouch headed over in the first period.

England also had a 77th-minute penalty appeal dismissed when Milan Jovanovic brought down Ashley Cole's cross with his left arm.

"He might as well have caught the ball, put it under his shirt and run home with it," Ferdinand said. "You expect the referees to be able to be up with play and performing at the highest level. Today, we just didn't get that."

Jovanovic nearly produced a Montenegro winner after that, volleying against the crossbar from 20 yards on a rare foray forward.

"We put in a great display at Wembley," Montenegro coach Zlatko Kranjcar said through a translator. "It wasn't easy considering our captain Mirko Vucinic was injured -- we didn't want to make it worse. We had a plan, we knew England's strength and we know how to avoid a defeat and we made the plan work perfectly.

"I don't consider it a miracle, but this is a result that exceeds our overall expectations -- three wins and a draw without conceding a goal shows this team has the talent and strength to achieve its goal to reach the Euro 2012 playoff."

This is Montenegro's first European qualifying campaign since gaining independence from Serbia in 2006, and its stunning start has helped a nation with a population of around 600,000 rise from 119th to 40th in FIFA's rankings.

"What especially helped me preparing this game was watching England's games against Croatia in World Cup qualifying when they destroyed the team with two quick wing players," Kranjcar said. "My solution was to fill up the gaps on the flanks. I think England is far less efficient then."

England was short of striking options, with Jermain Defoe and Darren Bent sidelined, and the only backup was 33-year-old Kevin Davies, who became England's oldest debutant since 1950 when he replaced Crouch with 20 minutes to go.

Crouch could have put England ahead after three minutes but shot wide after running onto Steven Gerrard's throughball. The Tottenham forward came close again when he headed over from Glen Johnson's cross.

The extent of England's frustrations was evident when Ashley Young acrobatically went to ground and appealed for a penalty after minimal contact from a Montenegro defender.

The draw ended England's run of 11 straight home wins and its next qualifier isn't until March against Wales.

"It's only a pity, really, we've got five months now to sit back and stew over this," Ferdinand said. "We didn't lose, we didn't concede a goal, which was pleasing. But, at Wembley, we'd liked to have sent our fans home happy."

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Lineups:

England: Joe Hart, Glen Johnson, Ashley Cole, Rio Ferdinand, Joleon Lescott, Steven Gerrard, Gareth Barry, Adam Johnson, Ashley Young (Shaun Wright-Phillips, 74), Peter Crouch (Kevin Davies, 70), Wayne Rooney.

Montenegro: Mladen Bozovic, Marko Basa, Milan Jovanovic, Simon Vukcevic, Radomir Djalovic (Andrija Delibasic, 77), Branko Boskovic (Fatos Beciraj, 83), Mitar Novakovic (Mladen Kascelan, 62), Milorad Pekovic, Elsad Zverotic, Miodrag Dzudovic, Stefan Savic.

Steven Gerrard (Photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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