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It is "now or never" for Montenegro when they face the Czech Republic in the first leg of their UEFA EURO 2012 play-off, according to captain Mirko Vučinić.
Europe's youngest national team raised eyebrows in qualifying by finishing second in Group G, after a campaign notable for two draws with England and a defensive steeliness that produced clean sheets in each of Montenegro's first four matches.
Yet, as Friday's encounter in Prague approaches, striker Vučinić said Branko Brnović's squad are beginning to feel the heat, mindful that they may never be in this situation again – just two games away from a major international tournament.
"We know we've achieved something big, but we're feeling the pressure," Vučinić explained. "It's normal because I'm not sure we'll be this close again.
This is a special occasion – this is now or never for us. We must be ready for these two games like they are the last of our careers."
The 28-year-old will be satisfied with a draw at the Stadion Letná, preferably a scoring one. "A good result, for example, would be 1-1," he said. "The most important thing is to score. We have the capability up front to cause a lot of problems for the Czech defence."
Vučinić struck twice in qualifying, goals which earned half of Montenegro's 12 points, though he dismisses suggestions he is the squad's standout performer. "We reached this stage because we play as a team, not as individuals. I don't feel like I'm a star – I'm just one of 11 players."
His club form in recent seasons has certainly shaped his reputation as Montenegro's chief threat. While at AS Roma, Vučinić beat Chelsea FC goalkeeper Petr Čech twice in a UEFA Champions League game at the Stadio Olimpico in 2008/09. Whether he gets the opportunity to repeat the feat remains to be seen, with the Czech No1's participation in doubt after he broke his nose against Blackburn Rovers FC last weekend.
"That was one of my best games on the European stage," recalled Vučinić of the 3-1 group phase win. "I'm sure Čech also remembers that match. I heard he is injured – I wish him a speedy recovery. But, honestly, it's better for us if he doesn't play because he's one of the best goalkeepers in the world."
The former US Lecce forward has not had far to look for the lowdown on Montenegro's play-off opponents: Czech great Pavel Nedvěd is a board member at Vučinić's club, Juventus.
"Nedvěd told me there is a difference between his generation and this team," he revealed. "Of course, that doesn't mean we have an easy job. I'm sure the Czechs are very strong, but everything depends on us in these two matches.
If we play to our full potential and fight one for all, all for one, we have every chance of a historic success."
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