Group C of 2018 European World Cup qualifying gets underway this weekend with one of the best matchups featuring the Czech Republic taking on Northern Ireland at home at the Generali Arena in Prague. Both of these teams took part in the European Championships in France this summer with the Czech Republic struggling and failing to make it out of the group stage with just one point while Northern Ireland made it as far as the first knockout round where they were ousted by Wales. The other nations in Group C are Azerbaijan, San Marino, Norway and Germany. The top two teams will automatically earn a berth at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Czech Republic vs Northern Ireland – Pinnacle Soccer Betting Line:
- Pinnacle currently lists Czech Republic as the favorites at -125 even money with Northern Ireland +436 and a draw at +243
Czech Republic vs Northern Ireland – Head to Head:
These two countries last met back in 2001 in 2002 World Cup qualifying. The Czech Republic won 1-0 on the road and 3-1 at home. Overall, they’ve met just four times in the past with the Czech Republic winning two and drawing two. The pair of draws were both 0-0 in 2010 World Cup qualifiers.
Czech Republic – A Closer Look:
The Czech Republic is currently ranked number 34 in the world by FIFA. They had a tune up match against Armenia on Wednesday and came away with a 3-0 victory. They’re now hoping they can keep the momentum going against Northern Ireland. This is a big qualifying tournament for the Czech Republic as they’ve struggled internationally since placing third at the 2004 European Championships. They were ousted in the group stage in three of their past four major tournaments.
The team hasn’t appeared at a World Cup since 2006 and there’s a lot of pressure on manager Karel Jarolim to make the 2018 event. The nation has seen most of its veteran players leave the squad such as Tomas Rosicky and Petr Cech and younger players are set to take over including Jiri Skalak, Ladislav Krejci and Tomas Kalas. However, their top attacking threat is forward Matej Vydra of English Championship League club Derby County. He’s scored five times in his 18 internationals son far and could be dangerous.
Northern Ireland ¬- A Closer Look:
Northern Ireland is ranked 28th by FIFA and this is their first time back on the pitch since losing to Wales at Euro 2016. They made it to the round-of-16 with a fine 2-0 win over Ukraine in group play and came out on the wrong end of close 1-0 decisions to Germany and Poland. They qualified for Euro 2016 with just one loss in their 10 outings and Northern Ireland has proven to be a tough nut to crack under manager Michael O’Neill. This summer’s European Championships were the first major tournament for the team in 30 years and they’re hoping to follow it up at the World Cup in Russia.
O’Neill will be depending on good performances from his top players such as Kyle Lafferty, who scored seven times in Euro qualifying, as well as Steven Davis, Stuart Dallas and Oliver Norwood. He’s also hoping for continued leadership from veterans Jonny Evans, Gareth McAuley and Craig Cathcart. Northern Ireland can’t afford to just sit back and defend against the hosts and will need to be sure to launch a few attacks of their own. O’Neill may be happy with a point from this road trip, but should still be trying to take all three if possible.
Czech Republic vs Northern Ireland – Takeaway:
Both teams may be trying not to lose here rather than going out for a win.
by Ian S. Palmer