Bulatovic: Montenegro deserves these three points

  • Montenegro began World Cup qualification last month with surprising win

  • Team in confident mood ahead of this week’s clash with Azerbaijan

  • Bulatovic: "We’ll fight to the very end"

No fewer than 40 places separate Montenegro from Bosnia and Herzegovina in the FIFA/ Coca-Cola Women's World Ranking. So when the pair were pitted together last month for their opening qualifier for the FIFA Women's World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023™, the result seemed a foregone conclusion. But as often happens in football, the formbook went out the window as the unfancied Montenegrins prevailed in a shock 3-2 away win.

No one was happier that day than team captain Sladjana Bulatovic, who was still beaming when she told FIFA.com recently what it meant for the team and women’s football in her homeland. "I’m very proud to be part of this generation. We were all so happy, but I have to say that we also prepared very well for this game. Bosnia are ranked much higher than us and picked up 18 points in the last European Championship qualifiers. We respect them without ever fearing them. That's the most important attribute we have as a team: that we’re never afraid, even when we play against top teams like Germany, Spain or whoever."

Sladjana Bulatovic fights for the ball with Lina Magull from Germany

"The most important thing is that we fought as a team, with everyone battling for each other. A few minutes before the end of the game we picked up two red cards, making it very difficult for us. Yet we still managed to battle till the end and win the game, so we really deserved those three points," said the 27-year-old.

The victory did not go unnoticed back in Montenegro, where it was greeted with a degree of jubilation by the local media, including national TV and radio. "It helped us a lot to know that people are watching and listening. In recent years, many girls have taken up football and their numbers are growing all the time. Our association helps and supports us in every possible way. For example, we have the same conditions as the men's national team," added the captain.

Up next are Azerbaijan, another stronger team on paper, even if Thursday’s opponents are "only" ranked 20 places above them in the global standings. Thanks to the victory over Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulatovic and her team-mates go into the game high on confidence.

"We're looking forward to this fixture. We respect for our opponent, but we also trust in our work. On top of that, our staff do a great job preparing us for each game. To be honest, we’re expecting three points, but in football you should never really expect anything, but instead fight for what you want. In the end, if you’ve played well and deserved it, you’ll get the three points," said the forward, who plays her club football with Spanish first division outfit Rayo Vallecano.

Then on 26 October, Montenegro host group leaders Denmark, a challenge Bulatovic is nonetheless looking forward to. "It's going to be a very difficult game for us against Denmark. We have a lot of young girls and they’re very excited to play against one of the best teams and some of best players in Europe. That's important for them, because they grow with each game and gain a lot of experience. The same applies to those of us who have been playing for the national team for ten years. It's a nice feeling to play against these big sides. Even if they’re better, it is always a privilege to compete against them. To be honest, I'm looking forward to this game because it's always a good feeling, but we have to be realistic. We’re proud to be part of these World Cup qualifiers and to share the same playing field and emotions as players like these."

The fact that Bulatovic plies her trade in the Spanish league helps her assume the role of captain with the national team. The striker learns something new there every game and tries to pass on her knowledge to the next generation. She also singled out coach Mirko Maric for the major role he has played in the development of the team.

"Last year we lost 10-0 to Germany. I know a lot of people might say that is shameful or that a team beaten like that is not cut out for football. However, after the game, our coach came into the locker room and said, 'I'm very proud of you.' We were like, 'How can you be proud? We lost 10-0', to which he replied: 'I'm very proud of you because you fought from the first goal until the final whistle. Girls, that was Germany. They’re one of the best teams in the world.' The way he talks to us, the way he does everything for us, is also very important. Our technical staff are also vital to us. The coach and his team give us confidence, and that was one of the reasons why we won that first game." Images courtesy of the Football Association of Montenegro