Fresh from their disappointing Euro 2016 campaign in France, Czech Republic are preparing to welcome injury-laden Northern Ireland in the first match of the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers with a new manager and a new hope.
Following Czech Republic’s disappointing result at the 2016 European Championship finals in France, national team manager Pavel Vrba has quit the job and signed a deal with Anzhi Makhachkala with Karel Jarolim taking over. The Czech team suffered two defeats and drew once in the group stage of the Euro 2016 before being eliminated from the tournament. Having previously won their qualification group which included 2014 FIFA World Cup bronze medal winners the Netherlands, result in France was a big blow to Czech team and for fans’ expectations. Karel Jarolim is now facing a daunting task in restoring the pride with his tem as Czech Republic heads into the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying opener against Northern Republic. Jarolim’s first assignment is to secure a team’s captain who will take over the armband from the veteran midfielder Tomas Rosicky. The experienced Czech international has left Gunners after a ten-year spell to sign a deal with his boyhood club Sparta Prague, returning home after 15 years. Rosicky is yet to announce his final decision on the national team, but Karel Jarolim would be happy to welcome the player of his calibre back to the squad.
New Czech Republic manager will be without Rosicky at least for the next two games as the fans are eagerly anticipating his decision on whether he will continue with the national team.
Jarolim will be deprived of the services of Arsenal goalkeeper Peter Cech, who had his mind made up on hanging up the international boots. Tomas Sivok is also unavailable through injury.
Key man out for Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland have been on the losing end at this summer’s 2016 European Championship finals in France, but Michael O’Neill’s men refused to be sore losers as they had frenetic support from the stands despite their overall disappointing campaign. Three points won after the 2-0 win over Ukraine was enough to put Northern Ireland through to the next stage despite O’Neill’s team losing 1-0 to Poland and Germany respectively in group stage. The European path was put to a halt by Wales in the knockouts after a disappointing own-goal from McAuley, but Northern Ireland gained plenty of positives from their Euro 2016 participation that they are hoping to implement during the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying. In addition to Czech Republic as one of the main contenders is group C, Northern Ireland have been pitted against Germany, Norway, Azerbaijan and San Marino in what is likely to be a difficult group for Michael O’Neill’s side.
O’Neill is faced with a major selection problem ahead of the trip to Czech Republic. Key defender Craig Cathcart has picked up a groin injury which forced Northern Ireland manager to call-up Shrewsbury’s Ryan McGivern and the uncapped Rochdale midfielder Matthew Lund. Aaron Hughes is another high profile absentee as the veteran is not in his full fitness ahead of the match.
Northern Ireland manager will be forced to change tactics due to the absence of first-team regular Cathcart which can be a major problem against the Czech who are highly motivated to level up their performances and record the three points at their new manager’s initiation. A home win is on the cards.
Top pick: Czech Republic 1.85 (17/2) @SkyBet
Alternative pick 1: Home Win / Home Win 2.88 (15/8) @Ladbrokes
Alternative pick 2: Both teams to score – No 1.67 (4/6) BetVictor