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Preview: England vs. Czech Republic - prediction, team news, lineups

:Headline: Preview: England vs. Czech Republic - prediction, team news, lineups:
Sports Mole previews Friday's Euro 2020 qualifier between England and Czech Republic, including predictions, team news and head-to-head records.
By , Editor | 6mo

England kick off their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign with a home game against Czech Republic at Wembley on Friday night.

The Three Lions enjoyed an unforgettable 2018 and will now be looking to build on those foundations in their first match of 2019.


England


Rarely in recent memory have England gone into their opening match of a calendar year with such optimism amongst both the players and the supporters.

The summer of 2018 will not be forgotten in a hurry, with the Three Lions getting all the way to the semi-finals of the World Cup for the first time since 1990, and they went on to beat both Spain and Croatia to a place in the Nations League finals as well.

That is now in the past, but captain Harry Kane insists that 2019 can prove to be even more special if England win the Nations League in June, giving them their first international silverware since the 1966 World Cup.

England's success in the Nations League means that they are guaranteed at least a playoff spot in Euro 2020 regardless of their performance during the group stages, but Gareth Southgate will not want to use this summer's tournament as a fall-back option.

The Three Lions have been drawn alongside Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Montenegro and Kosovo in Group A - a pool they should have little trouble topping considering they are ranked fifth in the world, while the next highest-ranked team are Friday's opponents in 44th.

England have grown used to playing higher-calibre opposition, with 10 of their last 11 matches coming against teams currently ranked in the world's top 15.

With the tag of heavy favourites comes a different type of pressure, though, and it is one which past England teams have struggled to cope with at times.

Spain are the only visiting team to have beaten England at Wembley for almost three years, though, and Southgate's side go into Friday's match with four wins and no defeats in their last five outings.

A trip to Montenegro awaits after this Group A opener in what will be England's last outing before the Nations League semi-final against the Netherlands, and anything less than six points from six in this upcoming double-header would curb some of the renewed enthusiasm surrounding the national team.

Recent form: LWDWWW


Czech Republic


Once considered an emerging force in world football, Czech Republic have lost their way a little in recent years.

Unable to qualify for a World Cup since 2006 and eliminated in the group stages of Euro 2016 with just one point to their name, Jaroslav Silhavy has a serious job on his hands to ensure that they make it into the European Championships for a seventh successive edition since their reformation from Czechoslovakia.

The FIFA rankings suggest that they should be favourites to secure 'best of the rest' status behind England and therefore earn the second qualifying spot for next year's tournament.

However, Czech Republic finished four points behind Northern Ireland during qualifying for the 2018 World Cup and could only manage second place behind Ukraine in their Nations League group last year.

Silhavy's side did at least end 2018 on a high with back-to-back 1-0 wins over a Poland side including Robert Lewandowski and a Slovakia team boasting the likes of Marek Hamsik and Milan Skriniar.

England will be wary of the visitors pulling off a shock at Wembley, then, in what is the first of two high-profile games for the country with a home friendly against Brazil to follow on Tuesday.

Victory on Friday would see the Czechs pull off back-to-back away wins for the first time since November 2017, although last year they were beaten handsomely by the likes of Australia and Russia on the road.

Any points at Wembley would be an unexpected bonus for the visitors, but they will know that it is not the games against England which are most likely to determine their qualification fate.

Indeed, Silhavy may already have one eye on this summer's qualifiers against Bulgaria and Montenegro - both of which come at home - as a chance to get a foot up in the battle for a top-two spot.

Recent form: LLWLWW


Team News


Southgate's initial squad was hit by a spate of withdrawals on Friday as Fabian Delph, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, John Stones and Luke Shaw all returned to their clubs due to injuries.

James Ward-Prowse and Callum Hudson-Odoi have been called up to replace them, though, with the latter hoping to make his England debut despite being yet to start a Premier League game for Chelsea.

Declan Rice is another potential debutant after switching his allegiances from the Republic of Ireland, although Jordan Henderson is likely to play in the holding midfield role should he recover from an ankle injury.

Kane will lead the line with Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling expected to be in support should Southgate stick with the 4-3-3 formation which brought England such success towards the end of last year.

There is a decision to be made in goal, meanwhile, with questions over Jordan Pickford's form at club level perhaps opening the door for Tom Heaton to stake his claim for a starting spot.

Czech Republic no longer have Petr Cech to call upon, but Matej Vydra and Tomas Kalas do ply their trade in English football, while Roma's Patrik Schick is their main dangerman up front.

The uncapped Alex Kral will be hopeful of making his debut as one of five Slavia Prague players in the squad.

England possible starting lineup:
Pickford; Walker, Maguire, Keane, Rose; Alli, Henderson, Barkley; Sterling, Kane, Rashford

Czech Republic possible starting lineup:
Vaclik; Gebre Selassie, Suchy, Kalas, Novak; Vydra, Dockal, Soucek, Zmrhal, Jankto; Schick


Head To Head

This will be the first ever competitive meeting between these two sides, but they have faced off twice before in international friendlies 10 years apart - both of which came at Wembley.

England won the first of those with a 2-0 triumph in November 1998, when Darren Anderton and Paul Merson were on the scoresheet for Glenn Hoddle's side.

The most recent meeting came in August 2008 when Fabio Capello's side needed a late Joe Cole equaliser to avoid defeat in a 2-2 draw.



We say: England 2-0 Czech Republic

England should have enough about them to see off the threat of Czech Republic relatively comfortably. The Three Lions have always been strong at home and go into the game with the feelgood factor behind them too.


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