London: England face what has become an unlikely table-topper against surprise package Montenegro at Wembley as the qualifying campaign for Euro 2012 rumbles on with some tricky matches for Europe’s big guns on Tuesday.
World Cup finalists the Netherlands host Sweden hoping to take a stranglehold in Group E, Group C leaders Italy welcome Serbia while Portugal travel to Iceland hoping to close the five-point gap on Group H leaders Norway.
France should continue their revival at home to Luxembourg in Group D while world champions Spain will test Scotland’s 4-6-0 formation in a Group I clash in Glasgow.
England coach Fabio Capello has enjoyed an upsurge in support since his side’s World Cup debacle thanks to a lively start to the qualifying campaign with wins over Bulgaria and Switzerland, the teams expected to be their main challengers.
However, with a rapidly-expanding injury list to furrow his brow, the Italian will be wary of Montenegro, little-known opponents who have enjoyed three consecutive 1-0 victories against Wales, Bulgaria and Switzerland to top the table.
In-form Sunderland striker Darren Bent became the latest drop-out from Capello’s squad on Monday when he strained his groin in training, joining defenders John Terry and Phil Jagielka and winger Aaron Lennon on the “unavailable” list.
With the likes of Jermain Defoe and Frank Lampard also out injured, England will be far from full strength on Tuesday when injury-prone Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand returns as skipper and Peter Crouch partners Wayne Rooney in attack.
“They are one of the stand-out teams in this group and we’re in for a hard game against them,” Ferdinand said of Montenegro’s first visit to Wembley. “We’ve got to make sure we bring our ‘A’ game to make sure we put the game to bed as they have started well in the group.”