Czech Republic v Wales
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Czechs looking for revenge
Having lost the reverse fixture in Cardiff to a late Dan James goal, the Czech Republic know victory is imperative when the two teams square up again in Prague on Friday.
Belgium, as expected, are running away with Group E after taking 16 points out of 18 so the battle now is for second place and a spot in the play-offs.
It’s basically a straight shootout between the Czechs and Wales and they go into the game on seven points apiece although the visitors have a game in hand.
Even though Wales still have to a second game against Belgium to play, this is clearly the Czechs’ golden chance to get a grip on the runners-up spot.
Their home form has been solid enough with four points so far. That includes a 1-1 draw with Belgium and a narrow 1-0 victory over Belarus, whose record shows four defeats out of five.
Since their last qualifier, the 3-0 loss to the Belgians, they’ve played out a 1-1 home draw with Ukraine although the Czechs needed an injury-time strike from Burnley’s Matej Vydra to avoid defeat.
Wales without Bale
The idea that Wales are a one-man team can be a lazy one. After all, they’ve dug out plenty of good results in the last few years when Gareth Bale wasn’t at his best or not on the pitch.
But the hat-trick he scored to secure a 3-2 win over Belarus in Kazan last month did act as a reminder of his immense importance.
The big news here is that Bale is out injured with a hamstring problem so Robert Page will have to find another hero – or perhaps a few of them – to keep Wales on track for second spot.
Away from home so far, they’ve take the lead but ultimately lost (3-1) to leaders Belgium and then won by the odd goal in five in Belarus.
That suggests they have goals in them but will that be the case without Bale?
Adding to their problems is the news David Brooks and Ben Davis have also pulled out of the squad with injury why Aaron Ramsey may not be 100% having missed Juventus’ last two matches with injury.
The market expects the Czech Republic to get the win they crave and the hosts trade at 1.768/11.
Wales are 5.95/1 to grab three huge points while The Draw, not a disaster for either but better for the Welsh, is 3.65.
The reliance on Bale to find a goal is shown by the fact that no other Welsh player has scored in the last five matches. Just where are their goals going to come from?
At least they don’t absolutely have to grab one to get something as Wales have played out three 0-0 draws in their last nine games so they are capable of clean sheets.
However, they’ve looked leaky on the road and although the Czechs struggle for goals themselves, I can see the hosts nicking this one.
Head-to-head records also point to a goalless draw as there have been two of those in the four past meetings (2002 and 2007).
The other two have been single-goal victories for the hosts and that’s worth a bet here. Czech Republic to win 1-0 is 6.05/1.
Naturally, having tipped 1-0, I’m looking at Under 2.5 Goals but that looks short at 1.635/8. Overs is 2.447/5.
The Czechs have scored eight and conceded seven in their five matches but those figures are skewed heavily by a 6-2 away win in Estonia.
Filter that out and their other four games have produced just seven goals.
Even though Belarus and Estonia have managed just four points between them, Wales are the group’s lowest scorers with five goals.
As I fancy the Czechs to score, the obvious candidate is Patrik Schick, who shared the Golden Boot with Cristiano Ronaldo at the Euros back in the summer.
Schick is the third top scorer in the Bundesliga this season, his six goals in seven matches for Bayer Leverkusen just one fewer than star duo Erling Haaland and Robert Lewandowski. Not bad company to keep.
He’s 2.35/4 to score anytime but I’ll play him in the Bet Builder.
Schick to score, a Czech Republic win and Both teams to Score ‘No’ pays 4.3310/3. That also gives us 2-0, 3-0 and any Czech win with a clean sheet.