Czech Republic 2-1 England
A late Czech Republic winner ensured England missed out on their first chance to seal qualification to Euro 2020. A poor team performance handed them their first defeat in a qualifier since 2009.
Danny Rose and Kieran Trippier were selected at full-back for this one, whilst Chelsea’s Mason Mount started an England match at senior level for the first time. England knew that if they won in Prague, their place at UEFA Euro 2020 was secured.
This was a match that burst into life in its early exchanges, but that’s more because of England’s string of unforced errors than anything else. This was to be a string that only fully unravelled itself on the full-time whistle…
But it was still England that created the game’s first chance. Harry Kane put Raheem Sterling through in-behind the Czech defence with a lovely pass. Sterling checked back, was hauled to the ground, and earned his side a penalty.
Kane stepped up to recover from his miss against Kosovo, tucking the ball down the middle of the goal and becoming England’s joint-highest-scoring penalty-taker. They led on five minutes.
Not three minutes later, the hosts, the Czech Republic were building their own dangerous attack – demanding a penalty when the ball struck an England arm inside the box. It instead travelled through a melee of bodies, landing at the feat of defender, Vladimír Coufal. He struck the ball fiercely across Jordan Pickford from range, forcing the England goalkeeper into a brilliant save at full stretch.
Immediately from the following corner it was 1-1. Jakub Jankto delivered and an untimely Declan Rice slip contributed to Jakub Brabec’s bundled equaliser. It went in off his knee from close range, but his first international goal had levelled the game for the Czech Republic in Prague.
Young Leipzig forward Patrik Schick nearly made it an even better night for the home fans soon after, diving in but heading over as England again failed to defend a corner convincingly.
At moments it seemed as though the ball spent more time off the pitch, waiting to be thrown or kicked back on, than it actually did in play. Alas, the first half petered out into a frictional midfield battle. A battle that was poised at 1-1.
Proceedings resumed at the Sinobo Stadium, livening up on 56 minutes when Raheem Sterling broke free of the Czech defence again. Taking advantage of lapses in concentration as Danny Rose lay on the ground under a rough challenge, Sterling turned his man, running on and receiving another perfect return ball from Kane.
He tried to round the goalkeeper, Tomáš Vaclík, who just about managed to claw the ball away from danger. A game that for long periods managed to disappoint was alive and kicking again. A minute later, Lukáš Masopust brought out another flying save from Pickford, as he drove forward and shot at goal from distance.
On came Ross Barkley and Marcus Rashford for England; Mason Mount and Jadon Sancho gave way. However, the clock now read 73 minutes – hints were starting to suggest it simply wasn’t going to be England’s night.
The Czech Republic continued to counter at speed, taking advantage of England’s poor passing. 21-year-old Spartak Moscow midfielder Alex Král played a lovely one-two with Vladimír Darida, receiving the ball back and hammering the ball against the gloves of a once again overemployed Jordan Pickford.
England partially recovered, Barkley playing in Harry Kane with an inch-perfect early cross. The Tottenham man shot on the angle, but Vaclík was equal to it.
Then came the calamity that no one expected but all involved should have feared so much more than they did. Danny Rose, overly physical and untamed throughout, was emphatically outfought in the air from a Pickford clearance. Masopust ran to the byline, unchallenged the whole time, pulling back for bang-in-form debutant Zdeněk Ondrášek. The FC Dallas man caressed the ball home, launching the hosts into a deserved late lead.
The nous he had shown, pulling away from England’s dormant defenders, had earned him a dream debut goal and potentially handed his side three invaluable qualification points.
In what was Gareth Southgate’s last desperate roll of the dice, Tammy Abraham was chucked on as a second England striker. Declan Rice was the man replaced – a consistent performer for Southgate, until here in Prague.
But England hadn’t been good enough all night, they weren’t going to start firing now. The Czechs held out well, nearly scoring a third. The final whistle blew, confirming a bitter defeat for England, whose ten-years-and-one-day unbeaten record in World Cup and European Championship qualifiers is now over.
They had faced an entirely different animal to the side they had suitably thrashed at Wembley in March.
It ended Czech Republic 2-1 England at the Sinobo Stadium. The Three Lions now travel to Sofia where they’ll face Bulgaria on Monday.
“Look, I always have to accept responsibility. We tried something new to make ourselves a bit more solid without the ball, and that didn’t happen.”Gareth Southgate