England held to 0-0 tie by Montenegro

October 13, 2010

Montenegro accomplished what Brazil, Germany and the United States could not.

The tiny nation with a population of about 670,000 became the first team to keep England scoreless in 21 matches at the new Wembley stadium, holding on for a 0-0 tie Tuesday night in a European Championship qualifier.

''We put in a great display,'' Montenegro coach Zlatko Kranjcar said through a translator. ''We had a plan. We knew England's strength, and we know how to avoid a defeat. And we made the plan work perfectly.''

Montenegro (3-0-1), which leads Group G with 10 points, started D.C. United midfielder Branko Boskovic for the match at the $1.6 billion, 90,000-seat stadium, which opened in 2007. The Adriatic nation has risen from 119th to 40th in FIFA's rankings since its independence from Serbia. Playing without their top player, forward Marco Vucinic, the Brave Falcons extended their unbeaten streak to five games and stopped England's 11-game home winning streak.

''I don't consider it a miracle, but this is a result that exceeds our overall expectations,'' said Kranjcar, the father of Tottenham and Croatian national team midfielder Niko Kranjcar. ''This team has the talent and strength to achieve its goal to reach the Euro 2012 playoff.''

England (2-0-1), which is ranked sixth, is three points back. The English are trying to win fans back following their 4-1 loss to Germany in the World Cup's second round.

''It's the fourth time that they've had a clean sheet, and it wasn't easy,'' England coach Fabio Capello said. ''They were a really compact team.''

While defender Rio Ferdinand returned as England's captain following a knee injury that caused him to miss the tournament in South Africa, the Three Lions were without injured forwards Jermain Defoe and Darren Bent, midfielder Frank Lampard and defenders Phil Jagielka and John Terry.

Peter Crouch headed over the crossbar in the first period for the Three Lions, and Wayne Rooney was denied from close range by goalkeeper Mladen Bozovic's one-handed save in the second half.

With 20 minutes to go, Crouch was replaced by 33-year-old Kevin Davies. The Bolton forward became the oldest player since 1950 to make an England debut.

Montenegro came close to scoring late when Milan Jovanovic volleyed against the crossbar on a rare foray forward.

''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, but we didn't concede and were solid as a team from front to back.''

England 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. ''But you've got to get on with it.''