Montenegro on the march
© AFP

Montenegro coach Zoran Filipovic has every right to be pleased with his team's recent performances. This year the Montenegrins have played three friendlies against higher-ranked teams, winning two and only losing to UEFA EURO 2008 participants Romania. However, despite this setback, the Montenegrins have risen eight places in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking and now sit in 142nd.

The Balkan side sprang their first surprise in March, when they defeated a visiting Norway team 3-1 in Podgorica. Two months later, they followed up with an equally convincing 3-0 win over Kazakhstan. However, their clash with EURO 2008 qualifiers Romania at the end of May proved too much for Filipovic's fledgling side, who were soundly beaten 4-0.

With a team built around record cap-winner Vladimir Bozovic, Montenegro deserve great credit for what they have achieved in such a short space of time, the country having been an official member of FIFA only since 31 May 2007.

The Football Association of Montenegro was founded in 2006 following the dissolution of the former state of Serbia and Montenegro. Their first international followed against Hungary at the Stadion Pod Goricom in Podgorica on 24 March 2007, when two converted penalties gave the home side an encouraging first win. Their subsequent 2-0 loss to Japan at the Kirin Cup in June 2007 was the first international which counted towards their official world ranking. There would be further defeats against Colombia (0-1), Sweden (1-2) and the aforementioned 4-0 loss to Romania. On the plus side, though, the team acquitted themselves admirably in a 1-1 draw with Slovenia, a 1-0 win over Estonia and in their recent victories over Norway and Kazakhstan.

The team's star player is striker Mirko Vucinic, who plies his trade with Italian club Roma, for whom he netted nine goals last year to help them to second place in Serie A. The man voted Montenegro's Player of the Year in 2007 has also been on the scoresheet regularly for his country, chalking up four goals in six international appearances.

This September, one of FIFA's newest members will embark on their first FIFA World Cup™ qualifying campaign. Drawn in Group 8 alongside world champions Italy, Bulgaria, Georgia, the Republic of Ireland and Cyprus, they will start as rank outsiders. However, if they can build on the form shown in their recent friendlies, there is every chance they could spring a surprise or two and continue their rise up the global pecking order.