5 talking points ahead of England’s Euro 2020 qualifier with the Czech Republic
Victory will assure Gareth Southgate’s men of a place in next year’s finals.
England travel to Prague to face the Czech Republic on Friday night knowing that victory in their Euro 2020 qualifier will assure them of a place at next summer’s finals.
But, with another away game in Bulgaria three days later, there may be issues away from the matches which end up having far-reaching consequences.
Here, the PA news agency takes a look at the main talking points surrounding the match at Slavia Prague’s Sinobo Stadium.
Victory will continue England’s 2020 vision
Despite having three fixtures to come after the game in Prague, victory for Gareth Southgate’s side would rubber-stamp their place for the finals – with all of their group stage games, plus the semi-final and final to be staged at Wembley.
Having qualification wrapped up early may allow Southgate to take a look at some unproven players in the game in Bulgaria as well as next month’s double-header at home to Montenegro and away to Kosovo – giving vital experience to squad members who may yet force their way into the first-choice XI before the summer.
Fanning the flames
A game kicking off in Prague at 2045 local time on a Friday evening could be fraught with possibilities of unrest in the city in the build-up to the fixture.
A small minority of England fans were criticised for their behaviour during the Nations League finals in Portugal earlier in the year and security – as well as scrutiny – is likely to be increased in the Czech capital.
England players ready to walk
Another aspect of off-field behaviour that will be under the spotlight is the potential for racist abuse and the reaction of England’s players to any such issues.
While Bulgaria, who have part of their stadium closed after being hit with UEFA sanctions following racist behaviour in their previous two home qualifiers, could be the main worry, should an incident occur in Prague, the fall-out could make front-page news around the world.
England’s players look set to follow the three-step UEFA protocol for racist abuse, but Chelsea striker Tammy Abraham suggested they could walk off the pitch if they feel the official response is proving ineffective.
Case for the defence
England head to continental Europe on the back of a 5-3 victory over Kosovo in Southampton last month.
Although a devastating attacking display set them on course for an entertaining win, the Three Lions looked worryingly porous at the back.
Liverpool defender Trent Alexander-Arnold admits the defence has to improve if England are to hold any realistic aim of winning Euro 2020 – with Southgate now having to decide who makes the cut to start in the backline on Friday night.
Time for Tammy?
The Premier League’s joint-top goalscorer may have to play second-fiddle on international duty – what a great position for Southgate to be in.
Chelsea striker Tammy Abraham has been in superb form in recent weeks as the 22-year-old has repaid the faith shown in him by manager Frank Lampard.
Abraham, capped twice in 2017 before earning his first call-up since then this time around, has scored eight league goals – the same number as Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero – but is still expected to be on the bench for England as captain Harry Kane, with five Premier League goals so far, almost guaranteed to start.