Windsor Park, - World Cup qualifying
Fresh from their tremendous showing at Euro 2016, Northern Ireland can secure a play-off berth for the World Cup if they can avoid defeat against rivals Czech Republic. The Irish would have to lose their last three games while the Czechs win their final three for Michael O’Neill’s men to miss out on the play-offs.
The sides drew 0-0 in Prague last September. This was the third successive goalless draw between the nations, the others coming in 2009 and 2008 and Northern Ireland have never beaten the Czech Republic. The first two of five meetings in 2001 saw the Czechs win 3-1 and 1-0.
Paddy McNair went closest to a goal last time the sides met but the midfielder hasn’t played since last season and remains unavailable through injury, as are Gareth McAuley, Liam Boyce, Jamie Ward and Craig Cathcart. Northern Ireland have struggled for strength in depth in the past but still have a defence marshalled by the in-demand Jonny Evans.
Karol Jarolim’s side ran Germany close on Friday but always knew the game in Belfast was the most important. Jarolim rested six players on Friday including all four members of their squad one yellow card away from a suspension, so they will be fresh and raring to go.
Northern Ireland v Czech Republic Preview and Predictions
A draw is as good as a win for Northern Ireland but they won’t want to risk conceding a late goal if the scores are level so will look to put the game to bed against a side who at some point will have to attack them and leave space behind their defence. The Czech Republic are 9/5 to get the win they need with the odds almost the same on a draw at 9/4. Northern Ireland are 49/25 to win.
Four wins in a row is a wonderful recent record for Northern Ireland but a draw against the Czech Republic would feel like the biggest victory of all. To finish as runners’ up to World champions Germany would be a magnificent achievement. On its own that would not gain a passage to Russia next summer but with their organisation and desire Michael O’Neill’s men would be tough to play against.
The Czechs fought hard before going down by the odd goal in three at home to Germany on Friday. However their only wins in their last six games came against San Marino and Lithuania so their form should give Northern Ireland belief.
Josh Magennis scored twice against San Marino on Friday and is 15/2 to open the scoring, the same price as Conor Washington. Czech dangerman Michal Krmencik is 6/1.
Kyle Lafferty to score the first goal at 6/1
Lafferty loves the lime-light whenever he wears the green shirt. He has the knack of getting a goal on a big occasion and this is one of the biggest.
The game to finish goalless at 6/1
A draw will do for Northern Ireland and 0-0 has been the outcome of the last three meetings of these nations.