Verdict: Under 2.5 goals
Best Odds: 8/15
Czech Republic will be hoping to turn things around after a disappointing Euro 2016 tournament, and they hope a 3-0 friendly win over Armenia will help them when facing Northern Ireland. The Ulster Boys largely impressed at the showpiece tournament in France and are now looking to pile more misery on the Czechs.
Czech Republic have had very little success since the Golden Generation with the likes of Nedved, Poborsky and Koller stepped off the stage, and it’s already time for another crop of players to end their international careers. Following some under-par performances in France, Petr Cech, David Limbersky, Roman Hubnik, Jaroslav Plasil and David Lafata have all decided to retire from international football, while Tomas Rosicky could do the same. This means that new coach Karel Jarolim starts the 2018 World Cup qualifiers with a much changed squad, and he will have to do some rebuilding along the way as there is no time to waste. The Czechs performed pretty well in his first game in charge, hammering Armenia 3-0, but chances are they will face a much tougher task against high-flying Northern Ireland. Czech Republic continue to struggle up front as they have yet to find a striker that can score goals on regular basis, although Karel Jarolim was certainly happy to see Vaclav Kadlec get on the scoresheet against Armenia. The Czechs fared pretty well at home in the Euro 2016 qualifiers, defeating Netherlands, Iceland and Kazakhstan, while sharing spoils with Latvia and losing to Turkey when they had already qualified.
Captain Tomas Rosicky was left out of the squad, while Tomas Sivok, Daniel Kolar and Patrik Schick have been overlooked as well.
Borek Dockal, Jakub Rada and Tomas Horava were forced to withdraw, with Ondrej Zahustel and Martin Pospisil added to the roster.
Northern Ireland have been on the constant uptrend over the last few years and they finally managed to qualify for major tournament finals. The Irish were adamant they were not going to France only to make up the numbers, but not too many people believed they could progress from the group that also contained Poland, Ukraine and Germany. Nevertheless, the 2-0 triumph over Ukraine in Lyon proved enough for a place in the next stage, and the Ulster Boys also managed to make life difficult for red-hot Wales before they succumbed to a 1-0 defeat. Northern Ireland will now be looking to get their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign to a good start, and they could profit from the fact that Czech Republic are currently in a poor moment. Manager Michael O’Neill hasn’t made too many changes to the squad that featured at the Euro 2016 finals, although several players are unavailable through injury. While Chris Baird has retired from international football, fellow defender Gareth McAuley has decided to play on, which is great news for the Ulster Boys. Aaron Hughes, however, have been left out after moving to India.
Craig Catchart is out through a groin injury, with Ryan McGivern and Matthew Lund receiving late call-ups for the Czech Republic game.
Tom Flanagan is another player that was forced to withdraw, and that resulted in Aberdeen defender Callum Morris receiving his first call-up.
Key Factors to Consider
- Czech Republic won three of five Euro 2016 qualifiers at home (D1 L1)
- Five Czech players retired from international duty after Euro 2016
- The Czechs ended four-match winless run vs Armenia
- Northern Ireland failed to score in four of last five matches
- Mere 12 goals were scored in Northern Ireland’s last 9 fixtures
With so many important players leaving the national team, Czech Republic could find it hard to qualify for the 2018 World Cup and they will now be up against stubborn Northern Ireland. The Ulster Boys will be quite happy to sit back and wait for their opportunity on the break, so chances are we will see a low-scoring affair at Generali Arena in Prague.
Verdict: Under 2.5 goals
Best Odds: 8/15