Kranjcar outflanks Capello at Wembley

LONDON - England's Fabio Capello is among the highest-paid coaches in international football but it was Montenegro's Zlatko Kranjcar who took the honours on Tuesday after a tactical masterclass earned a precious 0-0 Wembley draw.

Capello's side were reduced to launching long balls towards journeyman Kevin Davies, making his debut off the bench aged 33, after the visitors acted on Kranjcar's homework to keep the Group G favourites at arm's length in their Euro 2012 qualifier.

Kranjcar, the former Croatia coach who took over Montenegro 10 months ago, was without three of his leading players, including key striker Mirko Vucinic, but those on duty proved a match for a home side short of verve and invention.

"We knew England's strengths and we had a plan to avoid defeat and we made that plan work," told a news conference after an oddly flat occasion when much of the crowd seemed bored.

"England dictated the tempo of the game but their attacking was only as good as we allowed it to be. We were very aware of their attacking skills, especially on the wings, but we were prepared for that, which maybe surprised them.

"We also knew how to stop Rooney in that playmaking position when he tried to get between the midfield and the centre backs."

Kranjcar, whose son Niko plays for Croatia and Tottenham Hotspur, knows all about English football but was by no means awed by what seemed a huge task for a country that played its first international match only three years ago.

"What was really important were the two games in the last World Cup qualifying campaign when England destroyed Croatia with pace out wide with Aaron Lennon and Theo Walcott," he said.

"My solution was to fill that gap on the flanks. When that happens England are less efficient."

A MIRACLE?

Kranjcar laughed off a suggestion from whooping Montenegrin journalists that the result had been a miracle but agreed their campaign so far had "exceeded all our expectations.

"Three wins and now a draw at Wembley, with no goals conceded, that proves that this team has the strength to reach our target, which is the play-offs," he said.

"And if the other teams don't live up to expectations we might even start to think about finishing top of the group.

"It's a year before we host England. We hope to have a full strength team then and, though I think England are still clear favourites, if that turns out to be the decider for who qualifies automatically I think we are good enough to win it."

Capello was his usual unruffled self, dismissing the setback as "just one game" and stressing that Montenegro have a good footballing pedigree.

"This was a team who have now kept their fourth clean sheet, it wasn't easy," he said of a side siting proudly on top of the group with 10 points from four games to England's seven from three.

"We needed to score quickly... we did not create a lot but we did create four or five clear chances and their goalkeeper was their best player.

"Sometimes though you have to respect the fact that a little country sometimes has good players.

"At this moment, psychologically they are on a high after winning three games. They were compact, the quality of the players is good, like former Yugoslavia players."

With Britain's tabloids smelling blood, one journalist asked Capello if he wished he had quit after the World Cup and, even in his halting English, the Italian did not disguise his disdain.

"It's one game, this is not normal," he said. "We have to play five more and maybe then we can talk about this."