Ahead of Montenegro's first ever UEFA EURO qualifying match, captain Mirko Vučinić feels the experience gained in the last two years will benefit his side as they prepare to welcome Wales.
Despite their short history as an independent football nation, Montenegro have met Wales before, winning a friendly 2-1 in August 2009. However, as Vučinić points out, the circumstances will be very different in Podgorica. "It would be a big mistake to think about that match because there is big difference between friendlies and competitive games," the AS Roma striker said. "We realised that in the FIFA World Cup qualifiers and I am absolutely sure we have learned that lesson."
For Vučinić, memories are still fresh of his country's maiden competitive game, when Bulgaria – a team Montenegro face again on Tuesday – equalised in the third minute of added time to secure a 2-2 draw at the start of World Cup qualifying. "The first match is very important, maybe the most important," he added. "
Three points would put a spring in our step and we would go into the Bulgaria game with confidence high.
"Only winning is on our minds, but we must show patience too," the 26-year-old continued. "If we go into the match thinking we can score as soon as possible, we will have big problems because Wales are very dangerous on the counterattack." Vučinić reaffirmed that Montenegro's approach to the Group G encounter was vital: "We have quality, as individuals and as a team, but we must show heart to fight for every metre of the pitch, and the mental strength to concentrate for every second."
Montenegro recorded just one win in their ten World Cup qualifiers, but their skipper says his side are a different proposition now. "We were new to international football and had no experience," added Vučinić, who has scored nine goals in 19 appearances for his country. "We were building a team while playing big games. Now, you can see we are a completed team – not a team in construction."
However, ACF Fiorentina playmaker Stevan Jovetić and FC Spartak Moskva midfielder Nikola Drinčić – two key members of the squad – are missing due to serious knee injuries. Despite their losses, coach Zlatko Kranjčar is still upbeat. "Why would I be pessimistic now?" he said. "I have a good squad and we've had quality preparation. With respect to our opponents, we have the ability gain three points. Wales have several top-class players, such as Craig Bellamy and Gareth Bale, but I think we have more individual class, even without Jovetić, and are the better team."
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