Will Czech Republic spring a surprise against England at Wembley?
England host Czech Republic in their first European Qualifier on Friday night
Last Updated: 22/03/19 8:01pm
Czech Republic are looking to reform themselves after several years of underachieving. Will they spring a surprise against England at Wembley?
England are clear favourites for the opening European Qualifiers clash for Euro 2020, but under new management, Czech Republic should not be taken lightly.
Here, we run through the new boss, their form, and which players to look out for on Friday night...
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Jaroslav Silhavy, the former national team assistant who holds the record for domestic appearances as a player, took charge of the team in September, and is four games into his tenure.
Silhavy won the league with Slovan Liberec and Slavia Prague as manager and was an assistant with the national team from 2001 to 2009.
The 56-year-old has managed seven Czech top-flight teams since 2007 after a playing career in which he made 465 appearances.
Silhavy took over after Karel Jarolim left his position following a 2-1 UEFA Nations League defeat at home by Ukraine and a 5-1 thrashing by Russia in a friendly.
Silhavy's first game in charge was a credible 2-1 victory in Slovakia in the Nations League in October, though they were beaten three days later in Ukraine.
In the November fixtures, the Czechs earned two 1-0 victories, at Poland in a friendly and at home to Slovakia again in the Nations League, eventually finishing second in Group 1 of League B.
They're currently ranked 44th in the world, a far cry from their best-ever ranking of second around 2005 and 2006, when the Petr Cech, Jan Koller, Tomas Rosicky, Pavel Nedved and Milan Baros were knocking about.
After the clash at Wembley, Czech Republic host Brazil in a friendly in Prague on March 26, and then Montenegro in June, giving Silhavy a better indication of where his side are at going into the autumn international programme.
Goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik is Sevilla's No 1 having moved from FC Basel in the summer, and started the season well before the La Liga side's form dropped off after Christmas.
Right-back Pavel Kaderabek is a regular for Hoffenheim, where he tends to play right midfield or right wing-back, and is in superb form for the Bundesliga side, who are unbeaten in six.
Striker Patrik Schick has started 12 of Roma's 28 Serie A games this season, scoring three goals, and many have called his 42m euro move from Sampdoria in 2017 'a disaster'. His confidence is low, and he's even started seeing a mental coach, but his three goals in four Nations League games means he is nailed on to start as centre forward at Wembley.
Former Czech Talent of the Year Jakub Jankto is another one to look out for; the Sampdoria midfielder could play on the left behind the striker in a 4-2-3-1, while English fans will be familiar with Burnley striker Matej Vydra and Bristol City defender Tomas Kalas, who has been among the Robins' best players this season in the Championship.
Vydra says the Czech Republic have identified Harry Maguire as a weak link in England's team and have also been told to kick their opponents at Wembley.
The Burnley striker has claimed England's defence is not as strong as their attack and that Maguire is the player they will be focusing on during Friday night's fixture.
"The attack is very strong. Defence, I don't say it's not strong as well, but it's not as strong as the attack," he said. "For example, Maguire. We talked about him at Burnley before we played against Leicester. In some moments it seems he doesn't know what's happening behind him, that's why he got a red card after five minutes in the match against Burnley.
"They (England) would surely like to hold the ball and play a possession game, so we have to be close to them. Don't be afraid to kick them three or four times - then they may change the plan and play just one or two touches."
Spirit of 2008
Head coach Silhavy wants his side to channel the spirit of Czech Republic's last visit to face England in 2008 when the hosts needed a 90th-minute goal from Joe Cole to rescue a 2-2 draw.
Silhavy is determined to use that result rather than Czech Republic's run at Euro '96, where they lost to Germany in the final, to motivate his players at Wembley.
"That was a great experience back in 1996 and we have some players like Karel Poborsky here to support us," he said.
"We didn't speak about 1996, we spoke about 2008 when we had a draw here. We really enjoyed that so I have talked about that because I was part of that.
"We would like to repeat that result."