x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

World Cup 2014 qualifying: England held in Montenegro as Scotland and Wales see hopes dashed

Gordon Strachan's side became the first European country officially unable to qualify for Brazil 2014, while Roy Hodgson insisted England's fate was still in their own hands despite a 1-1 draw.

Montenegro players celebrate after Dejan Damjanovic's equaliser against England.
Montenegro players celebrate after Dejan Damjanovic's equaliser against England.

Roy Hodgson insists England's World Cup fate remains in their own hands despite a 1-1 draw against battling Montenegro.

After a sparking first-half display, during which Wayne Rooney had given England a sixth-minute lead, the visitors were made to pay for a shoddy performance after the break as they continually gave away possession.

Joe Hart made a couple of excellent saves before Dejan Damjanovic grabbed Montenegro's leveller.

The result leaves England second in Group H, still two points behind tonight's opponents.

However, that gap may well have grown to five before Hodgson's side are next in competitive action in September, and they are still to beat any of the major opponents in the group.

"It is still in our own hands," said Hodgson.

"We still have to play Montenegro at home, Poland at home and Ukraine away.

"You are bringing it back to the result against Ukraine at home, when we would have liked to win but we drew.

"I suppose you could say Ukraine away will be crucial, but we still have three of our four games at home, so we will try to make certain we keep it in our hands by winning those matches."

The difference between England first and second-half performances could not have been more marked.

Yet the outcome might well have been different had the visitors been awarded a penalty for a foul on Danny Welbeck by former Manchester City defender Stefan Savic which referee Jonas Eriksson amazingly saw as a dive by the forward.

"I have not seen a replay but I don't think Danny would have wanted to go down in that situation," said Hodgson.

"We had several opportunities in the first half when we got behind their defence but it didn't quite come off for us."

Montenegro coach Branko Brnovic admitted it should have been a penalty, although he argued Rooney had fouled one of his own players in the build-up to his 35th England goal.

"It is possible that there was a penalty but did you see Rooney before he scored the goal?" said Brnovic.

"I like an attacking strategy, but against England it was not totally the way to go and they showed in the first half how strong they are.

"If we had been complete in our line-up we would have been even more successful."

Chris Coleman admitted he was "gutted" after seeing Wales' World Cup aspirations all but ended by their 2-1 defeat to Croatia.

The hosts had looked set to give themselves hope of reaching Brazil when Gareth Bale put them ahead from the spot with his fifth goal in six internationals.

But defender Dejan Lovren's fierce strike and Eduardo's smart finish inside the final 15 minutes condemned Coleman's side to a loss which leaves them 10 points adrift of Group A pacesetters Belgium and Croatia, with just 12 points left available.

After a bright first half, Wales were ultimately made to pay for their inability to retain possession after the break, and Coleman admitted his side had been guilty of defending too deep.

"We are gutted, even though we knew before the game we would be up against a very good team," he said.

"We felt we could have come in 2-0 up, but we could not get that elusive second goal.

"We then probably defended too deep too early in the second half, because it is human nature to protect your lead against such a good team.

"Boaz Myhill made some great saves and we thought it might be our night, but you don't expect a centre-half to score a goal like that.

"It was soul destroying for us. We looked tired and then they got the winner late on when we had probably earned a draw.

"We needed the three points tonight if we were going to do anything in the group and give us an outside chance really. We are not going to qualify now."

Igor Stimac felt his Croatia side had been fortunate to take all three points.

He said: "We were a bit lucky today. Wales were tough. We did not play well in the first half, my players did not do what I wanted, we were not precise moving the ball and we were lucky not to concede more.

"In the end we had more strong players on the bench than Wales and that made the difference today."

Giovanni Trapattoni admitted his disappointment after seeing two precious World Cup qualifying points wrenched from the Republic of Ireland's grasp.

The 74-year-old Italian looked to be emerging from a vital double-header against Sweden and Austria with four points safely banked, when Bayern Munich midfielder David Alaba snatched a 2-2 draw for the Austrians.

With the Republic having led from first-half injury time until the final seconds of a tense encounter, players and fans alike left as dejected as if it had been a defeat, and Trapattoni admitted his emotions were similar.

He said: "Also me - but you think how disappointed the players are.

"We must give them morale and belief and support. We must be positive. We have three or four young players and some players who were playing only their second or third game.

"We must believe. I said yesterday we believe in this new revolution. We have to allow these young players to grow in confidence - why not?

"With more experience, we could have wasted some time with 90 minutes gone, but the draw is right because Austria played well."

Austria coach Marcel Koller was the happier man as he headed out of Dublin, although he insisted there would be no celebrations just yet.

He said: "It's special in that the last goal was scored so close to the finish of the match and it was a well deserved goal.

"We do take one point home, but we are still close together with the other teams in the table, so there's absolutely no reason for euphoria. We aren't through yet."

Michael O'Neill blamed a chronic lack of belief among his Northern Ireland players as their winless run reached 13 games with a 2-0 defeat against Israel in Belfast.

The Northern Ireland manager has yet to record a win after 14 months in charge, with five draws and four defeats from his nine games in charge.

Again the home side were on the front foot for the majority of the World Cup qualifier but, despite seeing plenty of the ball and taking up dangerous positions they could not find the breakthrough and were punished in the last 15 minutes by Lior Refaelov and Eden Ben Basat.

O'Neill admits a worrying trend is emerging and is concerned it could be a mental factor.

"We had chances to go ahead that we didn't take and that's been the pattern so far, particularly in our three home games," he said.

"If we're honest we're not in a great run of games. If you look back over a longer period then the last campaign finished with four defeats and we've not been able to reverse that.

"At this minute in time we're making things very difficult. We go through a bit of anguish and ultimately when we don't take chances to win games it's almost as if we expect to be punished for that. That's certainly been the case tonight.

"I'm sure the fear does grow, I'm sure there's an element of that.

"When you don't win games the mentality is only changed by winning games and we've not done that - you have to be blunt on that side of things.

"A pattern has emerged. The Luxembourg game was two points taken away from us; Azerbaijan, we lost an early goal and then created enough chances to win two games; in Portugal we lose a goal with nine minutes to go. That's three draws."

Gordon Strachan insists his new-look Scotland side should not be embarrassed despite becoming the first European team to officially crash out of World Cup qualification reckoning.

A second-half double by striker Filip Duricic gave Serbia a 2-0 win which sunk a much-changed Scotland side and left them bottom of Group A with just two points from six games.

"I said that we might have to take a few slaps but we have to do something, we can't keep plodding along and hoping something happens," admitted Strachan afterwards.

"I want to pick players that will make things happen. Unfortunately for players like Shaun Maloney and Steven Naismith, the conditions weren't great for them but they can't be embarrassed.

"Sometimes when you have played a game of football, as long as you have given it your best shot you can hold your head up high.

"Sometimes the other team is better and that is what happened.

"We played against top players, technically gifted, strong, so the physical side the conditions gave us a bit of a problem but in saying that, we stood up to it and the longer the game went on the better we felt about ourselves."

Strachan praised his side for their "big hearts" in the wake of what was a routine defeat for the visitors who now have to build towards the 2016 European Championship qualifiers.

He said: "I think the players were surprised by the conditions which is a problem if you have smaller lads to play in it but we didn't have a physical side on the bench, they were all smaller lads except for Charlie Adam.

"But they have got big hearts, technically and physically they weren't as good as the lads for Serbia but they had big hearts.

"It was a team put together, they are young, two made their debuts, players at their clubs who are not getting games regularly, players like Steven Whittaker who has not played for three months put his name forward to play, so that shows they have got big hearts.

"So in the next couple of years we have to keep the best youngsters, the best of the players who are missing and a group in the middle and if we can merge that then we can try to produce some football to the standard we have seen tonight in Serbia."


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