England v Czech Republic, Friday 22nd March 7.45pm
Gareth Southgate was an unused sub when England first met the Czech Republic back in 1998. Goals without reply from Darren Anderton and Paul Merson won that game for Glenn Hoddle’s side and the now England boss will be expecting a similar return on Friday night. A 2-0 win for Southgate’s side is 17/4.
The sides have only met once since – when an injury-time Joe Cole goal salvaged a 2-2 draw for Fabio Capello eleven years ago. The same score-line in this Euro 2020 qualifier would be a setback for the World Cup semi-finalists and is best price of 35/1.
Southgate’s squad has been ravaged by injuries and Declan Rice should feature following his acrimonious move from the Republic of Ireland set-up. The West Ham midfielder is 9/1 to get on the score-sheet.
The in-form Raheem Sterling – 9/1 third favourite to win PFA Player of the Year – is 5/1 to open the scoring against a Czech side who won two of their Nations League ties against Slovakia and lost the other two to Ukraine.
Roma striker Patrik Schick is the Czech’s most potent goal threat and the 23-year-old is 11/2 to find the net at Wembley. It should be a straightforward win though for the hosts, whose last three games have boasted eleven goals. England to win and Over 3.5 Goals is available at 3/1.
Gibraltar v Republic of Ireland, Saturday 23rd March 5pm
Given, Kelly, Cunningham, Breen, Kilbane, Harte, Healy, Holland, Kinsella, Duff and Robbie Keane. Not a bad starting line-up for Mick McCarthy’s final game in charge of the Republic of Ireland first time around.
The talent pool has dried up somewhat in the intervening 17 years. Big Mick’s squad for their opening Euro 2020 qualifier against Gibraltar on Saturday contains just eight players at Premier League clubs – and that includes the young Bournemouth goalkeeper Mark Travers. While the team that slumped 2-1 to Switzerland in 2002 had vast international experience, some members of the current Irish squad don’t even have Wikipedia pages.
That said, McCarthy couldn’t really have asked for – on paper at least – an easier first game back in the Ireland hotseat. Previous boss Martin O’Neill led his side to 7-0 and 4-0 victories against the minnows on the way to Euro 2016 qualification and anything less than a win to nil for the visitors would be a surprise. This is an unbackable 2/5 but an Irish win and Over 4.5 Goals is available at around 7/5.
The Gibraltarians have shipped an average of almost four goals per game since their international debut in 2013. However, this figure is skewed downwards by facing similarly limited opposition in the maiden Nations League campaign, where they beat Liechtenstein and Armenia and conceded 2.5 goals per game.
In the past dozen games in which their opponents have scored, the hosts have conceded almost 30 per cent more goals after half time. It’s around 10/11 for the second half to see the most goals on Saturday evening.
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