Six years after taking their international bow, Montenegro celebrate their 50th outing on Friday when they host Ukraine in pole position to qualify from FIFA World Cup Group H.
Since gaining independence in 2005, the emerging nation have made unprecedented progress. Now they stand on the cusp of history, two points clear of closest pursuers England at the section summit. "If somebody had told me six years ago we would be in contention to qualify for the World Cup, I wouldn't have believed them," said midfielder Branko Bošković. "It's not because we haven't got the quality but because we are inexperienced as a team.
"Over the course of the last 49 games we have always played with a big heart and great desire to achieve something big. As a team we have grown and now everyone respects us," added the 32-year-old SK Rapid Wien player – one of six survivors of the Montenegro side that competed for the first time against Hungary on 24 March 2007.
"The team spirit has grown with each match. The time has come to do something special," said goalkeeper Mladen Božović, who is nonetheless staying grounded. "The Ukraine match is important for two reasons. With victory, we would almost guarantee ourselves a play-off place and it would extinguish Ukraine's hopes. They have drawn against England and beaten Poland away, so it will be a big challenge for us."
Six points above Mikhail Fomenko's men and 1-0 victors in the corresponding fixture in Kyiv last October, the 'Brave Falcons' have every reason to believe they can upset the odds for a second time. Božović, though, would be content with a draw against a team of enduring quality and resolve.
"A point would be good because Ukraine are very dangerous," continued the Videoton FC custodian. "They have some quick players, especially Yevhen Konoplyanka and Andriy Yarmolenko. They also perform better away from home and have great mental strength. After our win in Kyiv they were down but they have since stood up and been counted," he said.
"There will be few chances but we like those kinds of games. We are fighters. Also, our forwards Mirko Vučinić, Stevan Jovetić and Dejan Damjanović are unpredictable players, capable of undoing any defence in the world – they don't need a lot of space to score a goal."
After the match in Podgorica, Branko Brnović's charges next travel to Poland in September before October assignments away against England and at home to Moldova.