Montenegro fires coach for boycotting Kosovo game
PODGORICA, Montenegro (AP) — Montenegro has fired national coach Ljubisa Tumbakovic after he boycotted the European Championship qualifier against Kosovo.
Tumbakovic did not turn up on Friday for the game, which Montenegro drew 1-1 in a dent to its hopes of reaching its first major tournament.
The Montenegro Football Association said its board voted unanimously at an emergency meeting after the game to fire Tumbakovic for breach of contract.
“Members of the executive board have brought a unified decision to dismiss the current coach of the national team ... because of his decision not to lead the team in the aforementioned match, which represents an unpleasant surprise and violation of professional obligations defined in his contract,” the FA said in a statement.
Tumbakovic is from Serbia, where state-controlled media has launched a campaign against Serbs playing in games with Kosovo, which declared its independence from Serbia in 2008. Serbia does not recognize Kosovo’s statehood.
Assistant coach Aleksandar Jankovic and goalkeeping coach Dragoje Lekovic will take joint charge of the team for Monday’s qualifier away to the Czech Republic.
Two players from Montenegro’s team also boycotted Friday’s game. Defender Filip Stojkovic and midfielder Mirko Ivanic play for clubs in Serbia. The FA expressed “enormous regret” they did not take part in the game but didn’t announce any punishment for them.
UEFA last week said it was tightening rules on similar boycotts by national federations. Teams will not be allowed to refuse to play in Kosovo, but they can choose to play at a neutral venue rather than host the Kosovo team for home games. Ukraine did that with a 2018 World Cup qualifier, which was moved to Poland in October 2016.
The draw on Friday left Montenegro last in Group A with two points. England and the Czech Republic occupy the two qualifying spots with six and three points respectively.