Dejan Savicevic says confidence is high in Montenegro as a new generation of stars try to lead one of the world’s newest international sides to their first major tournament – the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Montenegro emerged on the scene in 2007 after declaring independence from Serbia the year before, and the Balkan nation have featured in four qualification campaigns for the World Cup and European Championship.
Ranked 64th in the FIFA standings, the closest Montenegro have come to a major tournament was five years ago when they lost to Czech Republic in a Euro 2012 play-off, having finished second to England in the group stage of qualifying.
But spearheaded by Sevilla star Stevan Jovetic and Atletico Madrid’s Stefan Savic, the road to Russia next year looms as Montenegro’s potential breakthrough following on from the recent emergence of Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina and the ongoing success of Croatia and Serbia.
Heading into Sunday’s visit of Group E leaders Poland to Podgorica, Montenegro are second and only three points adrift after four matches, and decorated Football Association of Montenegro president Savicevic – who finished runner-up for the 1991 Ballon d’Or and was inducted into AC Milan’s Hall of Fame – is delighted with the progress of Ljubisa Tumbakovic’s men.
“We have started another qualifying campaign and [the] start was really good,” Savicevic told Omnisport. “First three matches we did perfect, was on top of group with Poland before fourth round and match in Armenia. Unfortunately, we lost that match [3-2 in November] even though we had two goals advantage on half-time.
“We had a great chance to score third goal in first half, then after Armenia equalised Jovetic had a big chance to give us lead one more time… And after all of that, the opponent managed to score late goal and to win the match.
“I think that if we claimed three points in Yerevan we would have the biggest chances to win second place in group. Poland had a great result in Romania [winning 3-0] and they are favourites for winning first place in our group and we are expecting to battle with Denmark for second place at the end of qualifiers.
“One thing is for sure – we have confidence, we all believe and we will give our best to make great result in this campaign.”
There is a new group of players trying to make history for the country, with Luka Djordjevic, Filip Raicevic, Vladimir Jovovic, Nikola Vukcevic and Marko Bakic adding youth to a squad featuring the experience of Marko Basa, Elsad Zverotic, Mirko Vucinic and Mladen Bozovic.
It is a group giving hope to Montenegro but they still have a long way to go to upstage the golden generation of 2012.
“We have many talented players,” Savicevic added. “For all of them it is important to play regularly for their clubs, which wasn’t case in previous period. Now majority of them are regulars for their teams and you can see that they have improved because of that. I hope that they will continue like this and that they will perform even better for the national team.
“It is still early to give any judgment of the current generation as they have just begun with competitive matches. I think it is little bit early for comparison as we had change of generations not so long ago. I would say that previous generation, the one that reached EURO 2012 play-offs, was really compact and that allowed them to make some good results.
“Until some generation repeat success of the previous, or even make one step further and qualify for some big competition, they will be the best generation.”