PODGORICA (Reuters) – England completed their Group G campaign undefeated with a 2-2 draw in Montenegro to qualify for Euro 2012 although a needless red card for Wayne Rooney and a last-minute equaliser for the hosts soured their mood Friday.
Needing only a point to guarantee top spot in the group, goals by Ashley Young and Darren Bent had Fabio Capello‘s side in cruise control after 31 minutes on a rainy night in the Balkans before things became unexpectedly more complicated.
First Elsad Zverotic volleyed a reply with the final kick of the first half and in a frantic finale substitute Andrija Delibasic headed a dramatic equaliser to guarantee Montenegro second place and a playoff spot in the fledgling nation’s first tournament campaign.
Referee shows the red card to Wayne Rooney (R) of Enland during the Uefa 2012 Qualification soccer match England against Montenegro in Podgorica, Montenegro, on 07 October 2011. EPA
Rooney, who had been involved in both England goals, received a straight red card for a petulant kick on Miodrag Dzudovic with a little under 20 minutes remaining and will miss the start of next year’s finals in Poland and Ukraine.
The Manchester United striker, who suffered the second red card of his England career, could even face a three-match ban which would have serious implications for England’s chances of success next year.
England ended with 18 points ahead of Montenegro on 12. Switzerland, who host Montenegro Tuesday, can no longer secure a playoff place after defeat in Wales.
“We are a little bit disappointed because we were 2-0 up and ended up drawing the game,” captain John Terry told Sky Sports. “But it’s a great feeling to get where we’ve got and we’re top of the group.
“We were really in control and the manager said at halftime it was probably too easy for us. Wayne had a bit of a tussle, it was one of those things. Fortunately it did not cost us.”
Capello said Rooney deserved to be dismissed.
“I was surprised because it was just in front of me that he kicked the opponent. I think the red card for Rooney was right,” Capello said.
“The player is frustrated from (what happened) on the pitch not from what happened away from it,” added the coach, referring to Rooney’s father and uncle being arrested Thursday and bailed by police over an alleged betting scam.
It was all too easy for England in the early stages and it was no surprise when Young gave the visitors the lead after 11 minutes. Rooney fed Theo Walcott and his inviting cross was tucked away by the unmarked Young.
It was 2-0 when Montenegro lost the ball in midfield and Rooney played in Young who slid a precise pass across the area for Darren Bent to tap in a goal of pure simplicity.
Montenegro had hardly offered their fans anything to shout about but they were given hope on the stroke of halftime when Zverotic’s volley deflected in at the near post.
From that moment on the atmosphere inside the stadium was electric and not just because of the thunderclaps echoing around the Podgorica City Stadium as a storm moved in.
Montenegro, who began the night knowing victories in their last two games would guarantee first place in the group, began to play with much more purpose.
The hosts had a strong penalty claim turned down by referee Wolfgang Stark when teen-ager Phil Jones, on his England debut, appeared to bring down Stevan Jovetic in the area.
England were enjoying far less of the ball and when Rooney was dispossessed by Dzudovic he inexplicably kicked the back of his leg giving the referee little choice but to send him off.
Montenegro pressed for an equaliser and Joe Hart produced a great save from Milorad Pekovic‘s low shot.
Ten-man England appeared to have weathered the storm but Delibasic sparked huge celebrations when he headed home Dzudovic’s superb hanging cross from close range.
Capello said the turning point had been the goal on the stroke of halftime.
“We played really well for 35 minutes but after they scored the goal they found more focus and it changed completely,” he said.
Source The Star