Weblog: The football punter

England v Czech Republic preview

TV: ITV, 7.45pm Friday
Euro 2020 qualifying Group A

England appear to have landed in a soft European Championship qualification group and can make the perfect start by sweeping aside the Czech Republic at Wembley.

Gareth Southgate's men had to dig themselves out of a hole in the Nations League – clinching top spot in League A, Group Four thanks to successive wins away to Spain (3-2) and at home to Croatia (2-1).

But they are unlikely to be tested in the same fashion on the road to Euro 2020.

The Czechs are second seeds in European Championship qualifying Group A and have a better European championship pedigree than England – reaching the final in 1996 – but it is a long time since they were feared on the international stage.

Their main aim will be to achieve a top-two finish ahead of Montenegro, Bulgaria and Kosovo.

In their World Cup qualifying group they finished a distant third, 15 points inferior to Germany and four behind Northern Ireland.

And they had a mixed Nations League campaign, registering two victories over Slovakia and two losses to Ukraine.

Czech Republic manager Jaroslav Silhavy is trying to raise standards and has leaned heavily on players from domestic league-leaders Slavia Prague by including seven of them in the squad.

There is a winning mentality at Slavia, who have established a nine-point lead over second-placed Viktoria Plzen and advanced to the quarter-finals of the Europa League.

But most of the Slavia contingent are inexperienced at international level and three of them – goalkeeper Ondrej Kolar, defender Ondrej Kudela and midfielder Alex Kral – are uncapped.

The squad looks short of goals and there is an emphasis on Roma centre-forward Patrick Schick to offer the main threat.

Schick was prolific at under-21 level – scoring 11 goals in 12 appearances – but he has netted just five in 14 games for the senior side and has not been starting regularly for Roma this season.

England's squad has far greater depth and there is a huge difference in quality in the attacking positions.

Southgate's preferred front three – Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford – have all performed to a high standard in the Premier League. But Rashford has withdrawn from the squad with an ankle injury so Jadon Sancho, one of the most exciting talents in the Bundesliga, may even get his chance from the start.

The Three Lions defence – shorn of Joe Gomez and John Stones – and enigmatic goalkeeper Jordan Pickford are more of a concern although the Czech Republic may lack the tools to take advantage.

If Southgate can sort out the defence and the goalkeeping situation he may have a team capable of going all the way at Euro 2020.

The markets see it that way with England 8-1 co-third favourites outright, behind only France (4-1) and Spain (6-1).

Getting to the finals (a 1-500 shot with Sky Bet) looks a forgone conclusion and the process should begin with a routine victory.

Southgate's side should be in control by the break and there is scope for siding with an England-England half-time full-time wager at a shade of odds-on.

England-England double result

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