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England struggle to draw in Montenegro

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England’s qualification for the 2014 World Cup remains in jeopardy after a nervous draw in Montenegro. It was not quite the disaster it might have been, but still leaves England two points behind the tiny Eastern European country.

It was the classic game of two halves. Wayne Rooney gave England the lead in the sixth minute with a header and England established a comfortable dominance that should have brought further goals. Montenegro were a team transformed in the second half, pressing and harrying England, and they created several chances before they scrambled an equaliser from a corner that the defence failed to clear.

England, lacking an experienced head in the centre of defence (Rio Ferdinand might have been a useful influence), began to panic and could easily have lost the game. They weathered the storm though and might have snatched a win in the final minutes, although that would have been undeserved.

Manager Roy Hodgson was perplexed by the disjointed display. "There were several opportunities in that first half when we got behind their defence and were close to creating an opportunity," he said. "When you do that and don't score, you run the risk that a team like Montenegro will come out and play."

Captain Steven Gerrard put it more bluntly: "We stopped playing after the break for 20 or 30 minutes and, away from home, you can't afford to do that," he said. "We stopped passing and they got a deserved equaliser. They took control in the second half, apart from the last 10 minutes, so they deserved their draw. But we are still confident we can finish top of the group."

He might be, but England fans will be less sanguine. England need to win all their remaining qualifiers and will need a marked improvement on this performance to achieve it.

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