England can confirm their place at Euro 2020 with victory at home to Montenegro at Wembley on Thursday (7.45pm, live on ITV).
England’s 100% record in the qualifying campaign was ended by a 1-2 defeat away to Czech Republic in the first of their two fixtures last month. However their 6-0 win away to Bulgaria in the second left them in a very strong position to seal their qualification this week.
Gareth Southgate’s side top Group A with 15 points. Czech Republic are second on 12 and Kosovo third on 11, while the already eliminated Montenegro and Bulgaria are tied at the bottom on three points apiece. The top two qualify directly for next summer’s tournament.
With Czech Republic and Kosovo facing off on Thursday, with one or the other therefore certain to drop points, a draw at Wembley will be sufficient for England to qualify.
The Three Lions travel to Kosovo for their final match of the group on Sunday and so could become vulnerable if they were to lose against Montenegro, but that is a pretty unlikely scenario. England were comfortable 5-1 winners when the sides met in Podgorica in March, and Montenegro have won just three (and lost 10) of their last 20 internationals. The major UK bookies make England around 1/20 in their match betting odds to win.
Thursday’s visitors are a very different team to the one that gave England a pair of very competitive encounters in 0-0 and 2-2 draws during qualify for Euro 2012. Just a few years removed from their first internationals following independence from Serbia, that was a very talented Montenegro team who reached a high of 25th in the FIFA rankings and only lost out on qualification thanks to a playoff defeat to Czech Republic.
Montenegro’s ranking has flip-flopped since, hitting a low of 85th in 2015, and they currently find themselves in 61st, with no chance of reaching Euro 2020. Even when paired against similarly ranked teams in the UEFA Nations League, they won just one of six matches to finish third in their four-team group and so miss out on that potential alternative method of qualification.
The team are scoreless in three qualifiers since Faruk Hadzibegic took charge in the summer and their hopes of breaking that run on Thursday will be further limited by the absence through injury of captain Steven Jovetic. He is one of just a smattering of players plying their trades in the big five European leagues.
It all adds up to an opponent that England should have little trouble seeing off. Aside from that away defeat to Czech Republic and a couple of panicky moments at home to Kosovo, they have had the clear upper hand on all of their opponents during the qualification process. They have averaged 4.33 goals per match through their six fixtures, winning by four or more goals on four occasions.
The campaign has almost been a bit too easy for Southgate’s side. He was keen to frame the defeat to Czech Republic as a wake-up call to his players, to up their focus ahead of the tougher challenges that will inevitably await at Euro 2020. England clearly have the necessary attacking firepower to get head to head with most teams, but it feels as if Southgate is still searching for the best midfield setup against stronger opponents.
England’s squad for this international break features no real surprises. Sheffield United goalkeeper Dean Henderson (on loan from Manchester United) has received his first call up as a replacement for the injured Tom Heaton, but it is otherwise a group made up of players who have previously formed part of squads under Southgate, even if Chelsea’s Fikayo Tomori and Leicester midfielder James Maddison remain uncapped.
Our Preview’s England vs. Montenegro Betting Tips Verdict
Thursday’s match is England’s 1000th international and it will be attended by a number of former national team luminaries, including the living members of the team who lifted their one and only World Cup in 1966. It is a celebratory occasion for which a pretty poor Montenegro team will provide ideal cannon fodder. A strong England victory is the most likely outcome.
- Bet on England -3 goals on the ‘handicap match result’ @ best odds of 17/10 with Betfair’s sportsbook. Be aware that if they win by precisely three goals that would count as a draw, so England need to win by a four (or more) goal margin for this bet to collect.
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