After the high of the openeing game victory over Croatia, Friday night’s dour 0-0 draw with Scotland has seen the England manager and some members of his squad come in for criticism in recent days, with the build-up further disrupted by news of Scotland midfielder Billy Gilmour’s positive Covid test, which has forced both Ben Chiwell and Mason Mount into isolation as close contacts of their Chelsea teammate.
Results elsewhere on Monday night mean that both England and Czech Republic are already assured of their places in the last-16, with the Three Lions needing victory to top the group, while a point will be enough for the Czechs.
Finishing second would potentially mean an easier last-16 tie – with the Group D winner likely to face one of Germany, France and Portugal – but after the Scotland draw, Southgate knows a victory and a good performance are key to rebuilding momentum ahead of the knockout stage, while topping the group would also ensure England stay at Wembley for their next game.
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Momentum rebuild needed
There are, however, several key differences between the situation England found themselves in at the World Cup three years ago and the one they’re in tonight.
On that occasion, having won two games out of two, Gareth Southgate’s side were riding high and the Three Lions boss could rotate most of his side for the final game, knowing that defeat to Belgium would likely tee up an easier route.
Following Friday’s drab goalless draw with Scotland, however, England do not have the same momentum behind them and both the manager and his players will be under great scrutiny heading into the knockout phase should another poor performance and result follow tonight.
It’s also worth pointing out that in Russia it was clear that England’s half of the draw was notably weaker even beyond the last-16, which isn’t the case here. Indeed, were England to finish second and win their last-16 tie, they’d be on collision course with one of France, Germany and Portugal in the quarter-final anyway.
So, do England want to finish top?
It’s Russia 2018 all over again. Should England win tonight and top the group they will set up a last-16 tie against the team that finishes second in Group F – either France, Portugal, Germany or Hungary.
Should they finish second, however, they will face the runners-up in Group E, which contains Spain, Poland, Sweden and Slovakia.
Now, clearly, the latter path looks more tempting as far as the next round is concerned (though perhaps not as tempting as it looked at the start of the tournament, when many assumed Spain would comfortably top Group E and be out of the reckoning).
However, finishing top would mean England remain at Wembley for their last-16 game, rather than travel abroad, and they could have Mason Mount and Ben Chilwell out of isolation in time to be involved, which would not be the case if they finish second or third, with those fixtures coming too soon.
So where do we stand…
Well, first thing’s first, and that’s to say that both England and Czech Republic are already through to the last-16 following yesterday’s results which mean that any team finishing third on at least four points will have done enough to qualify.
England need to win tonight if they are to top the group, while a point will do for the Czechs as they have a better goal difference.
Should England lose, they would still finish second, unless Scotland beat Croatia with a sufficient goal difference swing in tonight’s other game, while a Czech defeat would only see them slip to third should Croatia triumph at Hampden by a margin great enough to overtake them on goal difference.
Standard Sport prediction
With the pressure on England to deliver, you’d expect the quality in attack to be too much – but the Czechs have also got four points from their opening two games, and will put up a real fight for top spot.
Czech Republic 1-2 England
How to watch tonight’s game
TV channel: The match will be televised on ITV and ITV 2 for free.
Live stream: UK viewers will be able to watch the match online via the ITV Hub.
Hello and welcome to Standard Sport’s coverage of Czech Republic vs England at Euro 2020.
Dan Kilpatrick and James Robson are at Wembley for us this evening and we’ll have all the team news and build-up ahead of an 8pm kick-off.