JON ARNOLD – I know, I know. With the USMNT playing Spain later today, a full slate of MLS action, USWNT facing Mexico and the kick off of Gold Cup this weekend one of the last things on your football-frenzied mind is Euro 2012 qualification. But, after one of my colleagues offered up her pick of Belarus for Cinderella team of Euro 2012 qualifying before the last round of matches, I wanted to get my pick in before it plays another game.
I’m not going out on a huge limb here, but it’d still be a surprise to see Montenegro in Euro 2012.
Montenegro didn’t exist as a country until 2006 after a vote narrowly passed for independence from the union of Serbia and Montenegro. It’s the newest international team (basically by virtue of playing matches after Serbia got started, but still). They’re in second place in Group G, behind England only on goal differential. Here’s the crazy part: They already played at Wembley. And hosted Switzerland.
Total goals allowed through four matches? Zero.
OK, they’ve only scored three. They don’t play the sexiest soccer ever, but you have to admire the run Montenegro is putting together. Plus, while they play as a team and so far have featured defense, they are typically captained by Roma striker Mirko Vučinić, who provides some star power. If they can defend the Podgorica Stadium and keep up the lockdown defense when they travel to Switzerland, they’ll be a team you’ll see in Poland and/or Ukraine next year.
Today, The Brave Falcons (awesome, right?) welcome Bulgaria, who they beat 1-0 away in September, which lead Bulgaria manager Stanimir Stoilov to resign after the match. You can catch today’s match on ESPN3 at 2:45 Eastern.
While Dimitar Berbatov is still retired from international play, there will be a new wrinkle in Bulgaria’s attack. Brazilian-born Marquinhos plays with CSKA Sofia and obtained his Bulgarian citizenship a few days ago. He was named to this weekend’s team. Either way, they lost to Corsica 1-0 in a prep match something called the Sofia Echo termed a farce.
I won’t pretend to know if there’s a rivalry, but it should be noted that this isn’t the first time these two have been drawn in the same qualifying group. Montenegro attempted to qualify for the 2010 World Cup and played Bulgaria in their first non-friendly match ever. It was a thrilling match that ended in a 2-2 draw. They went up 1-0 in the return leg, but then let in 4 goals to lose by a wide margin.
What’s the US connection? Well, injured DC United designated player Branko Boskovic is Montenegrin. Anyway, I promise to get back to North American stuff the rest of the weekend, but I hope you enjoyed the snapshot.