Montenegro reached 46th place in March’s FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, up six spots from February and marking their highest point in the chart since September 2013.
Having seen his side suffer their largest-ever drop in the ranking in October, sliding from 27th to 54th, coach Branko Brnovic will be pleased with their recent improvement as qualification for UEFA EURO 2016 looms. FIFA.com looks into the Hrabri Sokoli's (Brave Falcons’) recent change of fortune.
Montenegro's FIFA World Cup™ qualifying campaign in Europe's Group H commenced in March 2012 with positive results from their first five fixtures, winning four and drawing one. However, their final five games yielded just two points from two draws and three losses, which in part led to October’s record 27-place drop. But while back-to-back losses to end Montenegro’s Brazil 2014 bid put Brnovic under pressure, the 46-year-old signed a two-year contract extension, keeping him in charge through EURO 2016 should the former Yugoslavian international navigate his side through the preliminaries.
"I hope me and my team will do what we have almost done in last two qualifying campaigns and seal our passage to a major finals," Brnovic said. "We have a core of the team at my disposal for the next qualifying campaign, with several young players coming through who can strengthen competition for starting places, which is very important."
Montenegro have been drawn into Group G of EURO 2016 qualification, pitting them against Austria, Liechtenstein, Russia, Sweden and familiar foes Moldova. They twice did battle with the Moldovans during Brazil 2014 qualifying, winning the first encounter 1-0 and losing second contest 5-2. If Montenegro’s most recent international friendly result - a 1-0 win over Ghana in Podgorica - is any indication of the Brave Falcons’ form heading into EURO 2016 qualification, Brnovic should be confident of his team competing strong for a place in the finals. That was a target he came within one game of reaching during EURO 2012 qualifying, losing out to Czech Republic 3-0 on aggregate in the play-offs.
We have a core of the team at my disposal for the next qualifying campaign.
In their recent friendly, star forward Dejan Damjanovic buried a penalty in the first minute to beat a Brazil-bound Black Stars side - described by Brnovic as “the best team in Africa" - who currently sit 11 spots higher in the world ranking. When asked about his side’s chances of reaching the EURO 2016 finals, Damjanovic told FIFA.com: "The next EURO in France represents a big chance for us. The competition has been expanded to 24 teams and it means we have greater prospects. With the experiences gained from the World Cup qualifying, we can improve our performances and qualify. Personally, I hope I can maintain my form and score more goals for my country."
In addition to the morale boost Montenegro received by beating Ghana, the 454.77 ranking points earned with the victory should only help the Brave Falcons in the standings when April’s edition is released. Looking further ahead into 2014, they will face fellow EURO 2016 hopefuls Slovakia on 23 May and Iran three days later, ahead of the Asian side taking part in the FIFA World Cup.
Montenegro have missed out on Brazil 2014, but that means Brnovic will be able to focus entirely on his upcoming EURO 2016 qualifying task. Along the way, the just might reach – or even surpass – the highest ranking the Brave Falcons have soared to since he took over, when they climbed to 26th in September 2011, ten places below their all-time high achieved in June of the same year. With the likes of the high-scoring Damjanovic, Juventus striker Mirko Vucinic, Fulham’s Elsad Zverotic and centre-half Marko Basa at his disposal, Brnovic has plenty of quality to clear that last hurdle and reach the finals of a first major competition.