England play their first international match of 2019, hot on the heels of one of the best years in living memory for the Three Lions. An impressive run to the semi-finals of the World Cup was followed by Gareth Southgate’s men topping their Nations League group ahead of Spain and Croatia – gaining a measure of revenge for their World Cup elimination by the latter in the process. With a very forgiving qualification group in front of them, they should comfortably secure qualification for Euro 2020; a process which starts tonight at home to the Czech Republic.
The Czechs are second favourites to progress from Group A – with Bulgaria, Montenegro and Kosovo making up the pool of five, they must be confident of the top-two spot that would see them qualify directly – but they’re distant underdogs tonight. European Championship runners-up in 1996 and semi-finalists in 2004, there was a time when they were one of the most feared sides in Europe. However, the days of Poborsky, Nedved, Koller and co. are long over, and it would be a major shock if they were to represent a threat to England’s qualification.
Below, our Bet of the Day feature looks gives some guidance as to the best outcomes to back at the bookies, and why…
Fine margins likely to decide a tight game
In the absence of the almost ludicrously gifted midfield that has blessed past incarnations of the Czech national side, the present vintage must content itself with toughing things out, keeping the game tight and hoping to counter-attack through Roma forward Patrick Schick and Burnley’s Matej Vydra. They would be taking a huge risk by even considering taking the game to England, and coach Jaroslav Silhavy is not renowned for gambles like that. As such, you can expect this game to be light on goals.
England have a more dynamic line-up, with a potential front three of Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane and Dortmund prodigy Jadon Sancho all capable of making and scoring goals. They’ll come up against stern resistance however; the Czechs’ last three games having ended 1-0 indicates that while they’re not prolific scorers, they’re a hard nut to crack further back. Odds of 19/20 with 888Sport make “Fewer than 2.5 goals” a very attractive punt.
Trust England to get there eventually
Across their seven games at the World Cup, England scored twelve goals, which is a more than fair return. The one fly in that ointment is that half of them came against Panama – five of them in a first half that could only have been more one-sided had Panama failed to turn up literally as opposed to just metaphorically. Nonetheless, Southgate’s men tended to do enough to get through – an ability that also served them well in a tricky Nations League campaign. They’ll stick to the task here, and because the task isn’t “beat Belgium”, they should come away with what they need.
As we’ve already noted, the Czechs do make opponents work for anything they can get; clean sheets against Poland and Slovakia in consecutive games indicate there’s nothing wrong with their defensive concentration levels. In this light, the odds of 3/1 on offer at Betway on England to win after having been level at half-time represent real value. It’s tough to imagine the home side going 90 minutes without scoring, but 45 is more than believable.
Kane to do what he does best
The return to action of Harry Kane has coincided with Tottenham’s worst patch of form all season, but it’s hard to put the blame at the striker’s door. In five games played since his month-long layoff with an ankle injury, he’s scored four goals – 100% of his side’s haul in that time. For England, as for Spurs, he is the focal point of the attack and it’s easy to see why. Give him a chance, and he will stick the ball in the net. Not since Alan Shearer have the Three Lions had a striker who scores with such clinical regularity; in fact, his 20 goals in 35 appearances give him a better strike rate than Shearer’s 30 in 63.
When you consider that chances may be few and far between and the game decided by a goal or two, it’s more than a little tempting to back Kane for the game’s first goal. Dafabet’s odds of 23/10 on that eventuality might seem a little stingy in a market where the favourite can be priced at 5/1 or above. However, this is Harry Kane for England at Wembley (his home turf given Spurs’ extended tendency at the national stadium), so 23/10 is a very persuasive price. In fact, we’d go as far as to call it our Bet of the Day in the circumstances.
Bets of the Day
Kane to score first (Dafabet, 23/10); Draw HT England FT (3/1, Betway); < 2.5 goals (19/20, 888sport)