PODGORICA (Reuters) - Montenegro kept alive their hopes of qualifying for their first major tournament as an independent nation after captain Stevan Jovetic gave them a lifeline 1-0 home win over Romania in a tense World Cup Group E qualifier on Monday.
The result left the Montenegrins second in the section on 16 points from eight games, locked with third-placed Denmark who have the same tally and an identical goal difference.
What separates the two sides is Montenegro’s head-to-head advantage after a 1-0 win in Denmark last October and next month’s reverse fixture could be a winner-takes-all clash in the bid to secure at least a play-off berth.
Both teams trail leaders Poland, who have 19 points after a 3-0 home win against Kazakhstan.
Having seen Denmark leap over them into the runners-up spot after a superb Thomas Delaney hat-trick and a Christian Ericsen free kick gave them a 4-1 win at Armenia in the afternoon kick-off, the Montenegrins were under pressure to deliver.
Striker Fatos Beqiraj missed their best chance in a hectic first half, with Jovetic having a goal disallowed for offside after the home team’s winger Marko Vesovic interfered with play in front of Romania keeper Ciprian Tatarusanu.
Mirko Ivanic and right back Adam Marusic forced fine saves from Tatarusanu as Montenegro dominated but the home side seemingly fizzed out in the second half.
Inevitably, it was the talismanic Jovetic who scored his seventh goal of the campaign out of the blue, heading home superbly a pinpoint Marusic cross to send a packed Podgorica stadium into raptures.
Montenegro host Denmark on Oct 5 and visit Poland three days later, while the Danes are at home to Romania in their final match as the three-way race appears set to go down to the wire.
Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic in Belgrade, editing by Pritha Sarkar