England begin their qualification campaign for the 2020 European Championship at home to the Czech Republic at Wembley on Friday (19:45 GMT, live on ITV).
England are the clear, 1/3 odds-on favourites with the best of the British bookmakers to secure their place at Euro 2020 by topping a decidedly Eastern-European leaning group that in addition to the Czech Republic (the second favourites) also features Montenegro, Bulgaria and Kosovo.
Gareth Southgate’s side could have been expected to qualify even if they had received a tough draw given that the top two teams in each group will do so. To be drawn alongside the lowest ranked team in pot two (which contained Germany), the second lowest in pot three and a middling team in pot three has only made that an even more achievable objective.
England will nevertheless be keen to get off to a good start on home soil against a team whom they have only actually met on two previous occasions in their current form. There was a 2-0 win in 1998 and a 2-2 draw in 2008 and they have never clashed in competitive action.
Southgate’s squad for Friday’s match and the second qualifier away to Montenegro next Monday is largely made up of the players who led England to the top of their group during the UEFA Nations League and so earned a place in the final four of that competition this summer. West Ham midfielder Declan Rice and teenage Chelsea forward Callum Hudson-Odoi are the only uncapped members of his 23-man selection.
Injuries have ruled out defenders Joe Gomez, John Stones and Luke Shaw and midfielders Fabian Delph, Harry Winks, Jesse Lingard and Ruben Loftus Cheek. The only real surprise is that with that quartet of midfielders unavailable, Southgate did not call on Leicester City’s James Maddison, who has impressed this season in his first campaign of top-flight football. Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse was the man instead called in to provide cover.
Since their run to the final four of last summer’s World Cup, England have switched from three-at-the-back systems to a 4-4-3, with good results. It seems to provide better balance through midfield, while the forward trio of Harry Kane flanked by the rapid and incisive Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling proved successful against both Spain and Croatia.
If England can continue getting results against those sorts of sides, it would be a good sign that they might just be able to match or better their World Cup performance at Euro 2020.
The Czech Republic may have slightly less lofty goals in mind after failing to qualify for two of the last three major international tournaments. It must also be noted that they have produced a number of strong European Championship performances since the breakup of the old Czechoslovakia and the formation of the Czech Republic national team in 1994.
Not only did the Czech Republic finish as runners up in their first major international tournament at Euro ’96 in England, but they then also reached the semi-finals in 2004 and the quarter-finals in 2012. They have successfully made the tournament on all six occasions they have entered the qualifying process.
This is not, though, a particularly impressive vintage. They have plenty of goalkeeping options but are fairly middle of the road otherwise and don’t carry much of a goalscoring threat. Indeed, they have scored one or fewer goals in seven of their last eight internationals. No one on their squad has managed to reach double figures for the national team.
Results since former Slavia Prague coach Jaroslav Silhavy replaced Karel Jarolim at the helm in October suggest England should expect defensively-minded opponents on Friday. Two 1-0 wins, a 2-1 victory and a 0-1 defeat represent his record to date. His team are unlikely to be much more open against the best side they will have faced under his command.
Our Preview’s England vs Czech Republic Betting Tips Verdict
It might prove to be a bit of hard slog at times, but England should eventually be expected to come through and begin their qualification campaign with a victory at Wembley.
- Bet on England to win in a match featuring under 2.5 goals @ 7/4 with Boylesports.