Montenegro top FIFA World Cup qualifying Group H as they prepare to take on Poland, but coach Branko Brnović and striker Dejan Damjanović know defeat in Warsaw could trigger a doomsday scenario.
A 4-0 home defeat by Ukraine in June took some of the gloss off Montenegro's impressive campaign, and while they remain two points clear of England and three ahead of Ukraine at the top of the section, all of their rivals have a game in hand. "We need seven points from the last three games if we want to get to Brazil or at least make it to the play-offs," explained Brnović. "We can't afford to lose in Warsaw.
"We are top of a very tough group and we have the same chance of a World Cup place as heavyweights England and big footballing nations Ukraine and Poland," the 46-year-old former FK Partizan and RCD Espanyol midfielder added. "We will give our best in the last 270 minutes, but we cannot say we will beat Poland in Warsaw or England at Wembley. These are not do-or-die games and it won't be end of the world if we fail in this campaign."
Not the end of the world, perhaps, but the coach is also adamant that "one bad game, or to be precise one bad half, which is what we had against Ukraine, cannot be allowed to cancel out all the good things we did in this campaign". He has defensive concerns ahead of the Poland game – Savo Pavićević and Vladimir Volkov are suspended, and Marko Simić is injured – but seemed confident that his side could continue to put up stern resistance at the back.
"I hope we score, because I am sure we'll do a good job in defence," he noted. "We are used to having these kinds of problems. We have issues but also good things to think about, because our two important midfielders Simon Vukčević and Nikola Drinčić are available again after a long break through injuries."
Drinčić and Mirko Vučinić both scored when Montenegro and Poland drew 2-2 in Podgorica at the start of the campaign, and will be eager to make their mark again. So will Damjanović – the scorer of two crucial goals in the campaign; the one that earned his side a 1-0 win in Ukraine and an equaliser in a 1-1 draw at home against England.
"We are capable of surprising Poland, as we surprised Ukraine in Kyiv," said the 32-year-old, now playing in Korea with FC Seoul. "This is the last train for us, but if we win I think we will be hot favourites for top spot again. We must not forget that Ukraine and England meet in the next round, and both teams have to play against Poland. So, if we win on Friday, we will be in the best position before the October deciders."