It’s been a little while since all the fun of the World Cup and England’s Nations League success. Football fans have been preoccupied with club football since then, but it’s time to turn our attentions back to the international scene briefly. The qualifiers for Euro 2020 are starting and we’ve got a couple of games lined up for either side of this weekend.
Kicking off England’s bid to bag a place at next summer’s Europe-wide tournament are a couple of games against tricky(ish) Group A opponents… The Czech Republic and Montenegro (the other two teams in the group are Bulgaria and debutantes Kosovo).
Here’s a quick guide to everything you need to know about England’s first two Euro 2020 qualifiers…
Who are England playing? And what players are worth keeping an eye on?
Vladimír Darida, who plies his trade in the Bundesliga for Hertha Berlin is a former Czech player of the year and Jakub Jankto is one of the nation’s big hopes for the future. The Sampdoria schemer is highly regarded in all quarters and both players are regarded as danger men. Theo Gebre Selassie might be getting on but he’s still capable of bombing down the wing from full back and causing problems. Petr Čech, of course, captains the side from his own net.
Montenegro are pretty new to the world of international football and haven’t pull up any trees as yet. That said, they’re steadily climbing up the FIFA rankings and establishing themselves as a minor force. Manchester City fans will remember Stevan Jovetić’s 8 goals from 30 appearances. The striker, now at Monaco, is always a livewire up front and capable of finding the back of the net. But the nation’s best player by a country mile is their Atletico Madrid centre back Stefan Savić, another former City player.
When are the games on?
The game against the Czechs comes first, kicking off at Wembley at 19.45pm on Friday 22nd March. The game against the Montenegrins starts at the same kick-off time of 19.45pm on the following Monday.
Both matches will be shown live at Rileys.
The England Squad in full
There were no huge surprises when England gaffer Gareth Southgate announced his squad for these 2020 European Championship qualifiers. The core players that served him so well at the World Cup and in the Nations League remain, with the newbies like Jadon Sancho and Callum Wilson making the cut. Declan Rice makes his first England squad after choosing to represent The Three Lions recently.
There were rumours that Aaron Wan-Bissaka could get the call-up, especially given he’s eligible to play for DR Congo. But he stays at home. As does Wolves defender Conor Coady, who many tipped for a call-up. Along with James Maddison (a player who’s created the most chances in Europe’s top five leagues this season).
Here’s the full squad in alphabetical order:
Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)
Ross Barkley (Chelsea)
Jack Butland (Stoke City)
Ben Chilwell (Leicester City)
Dele Alli (Tottenham Hotspur)
Fabian Delph (Manchester City)
Eric Dier (Tottenham Hotspur)
Jordan Henderson (Liverpool)
Tom Heaton (Burnley)
Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur)
Michael Keane (Everton)
Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Chelsea)
Harry Maguire (Leicester City)
Jordan Pickford (Everton)
Marcus Rashford (Manchester United)
Declan Rice (West Ham United)
Danny Rose (Tottenham Hotspur)
Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund)
Luke Shaw (Manchester United)
Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)
John Stones (Manchester City)
James Tarkowski (Burnley)
Kieran Trippier (Tottenham Hotspur)
Kyle Walker (Manchester City)
Callum Wilson (AFC Bournemouth)
Since the squad’s announcement, Manchester City duo John Stones and Fabian Delph have withdrawn due to injury. As has Chelsea unit Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Gareth Southgate has opted against calling up a trio of replacements, instead choosing just to pick up the phone to rookie Callum Hudson-Odoi (who is yet to start a game in the Premier League) and his old Under-21 charge James Ward-Prowse of Southampton.
As you might expect for World Cup semi-finalists, England are red-hot favourites to triumph in both ties. Here are the odds for the first game, at home against Jaroslav Šilhavý’s Czech Republic side:
England – 1/4
Draw – 3/1
Czech Republic – 10/1
If you’re thinking of having a flutter on England when they take on Ljubiša Tumbaković’s Montenegro set-up, you may have to wait until after the Czech Republic game for your bookie to come up with their odds. Only none were available at the time of writing (looks like they’re waiting for the result of the first game).
Given England are 8/1 third favourites to win the entire tournament, you can bet that Harry Kane & Co. Will go into the game at the 15,000 capacity Podgorica City Stadium as odds-against favourites as well. Around the 1/2 mark.
The nation’s World Cup Fever was cured some months ago and we’ve all calmed down a bit since then. But England internationals no longer usher in weekends of ambivalence and disappointment. Southgate and his young squad have made England fans give a toss again. And while no one is getting too carried away that we’ll run away with the Nations League and Euros, The Three Lions should win both of these ties.
The home tie against the Czechs won’t be a walkover, but we expect England to win fairly comfortably at home against a Czech side nowhere near as good as past Czech sides. But away to an improving Montenegro might be tighter than a lot of people might expect…
England 2 – 0 Czech Republic
Montenegro 0 – 1 England
Come on down to your local Rileys for the games. We’re your home for live sport, after all… Plus you can have a few drinks, a bit to eat and play a few game of darts and pool before and after the match.
See you down there, eh?