Czech Republic vs Northern Ireland Preview: Green and White Army head to Prague with hopes of more magic
Image credit: Chloe Gallot

Czech Republic vs Northern Ireland Preview: Green and White Army head to Prague with hopes of more magic

Will the Northern Irish claim another historic win?

Jonathan Walsh

Just as the memories of the European Championships began to fade - they haven't, nor will they ever - the Czech Republic welcome Northern Ireland to Prague on Sunday.

Both teams were at the finals but enjoyed contrasting runs. The Green and White Army made history, while the Czechs crashed out early on.

With retirements and injury playing havoc with potential team selections for the hosts and the visitors respectively, this could be anyone's game.

Czech Republic entering a new era

The Czechs have a staggering 507 caps missing from this squad, in comparison to the one that they took to the Euros. New head coach, Karel Jarolim has the unenviable task of picking up a side that will never see Petr Cech and Jaroslav Plasil pull on the national team jersey again.

Tomas Rosicky's absence doesn't make his first competitive game any easier. For once, Michal Kadlec - perhaps even this is a stretch - aside, this squad seems to be lacking that one stand-out leader like the Jan Koller, Karel Poborsky, Pavel Nedved, Cech or Rosicky that the team could always look to and take inspiration from.

That new man may just be Vladimir Darida. He is, arguably, the most talented player in this squad. While his contributions may not get picked on up as regularly as they should at Hertha BSC, Darida is undoubtedly one of the stars of this team and will be the leading figure in terms of taking it on to the next phase.

Despite any doubts that people may have over the Czechs, being solid and getting the job done on a regular basis is what they do well and what they will be expected to do on Sunday. The battle between Darida and Steven Davis, the two key players, could well be the deciding factor.

Northern Ireland hoping to keep up Euro momentum

Optimism has rarely been as high around a Northern Ireland team after their heroics over the last two years, in which they turned what could have been another iffy attempt at qualification into one that will be written into football history in the country. Wales and Iceland had their name up in lights, but Michael O'Neill's men missed out on that.

Plucky Wales with Aaron Ramsey, Gareth Bale and Ashley Williams were heralded the world over for their achievements - and rightly so, it was breathtaking to the extreme - but what of Northern Ireland? With just five players in the Euro 2016 squad playing for Premier League teams, does that not deserve more of a song and dance?

They might warrant praise and get it, but it's a case of building on that incredible moment in Lyon that is Northern Ireland's next task; something Wales and Iceland will, no doubt, find a lot easier to do. Unlike their opponents on Sunday, only Chris Baird announced his international retirement and O'Neill has a similar squad to choose from.

Craig Cathcart's injury could prove crucial, as his late withdrawal may have hampered preparations and what the side had been planning all week. Nevertheless, after the changes O'Neill made for the game against Ukraine, anything is possible from the former Shamrock Rovers boss.

Predicted line-ups

Czech Republic (4-4-2): Vaclik; Kaderabeck, M. Kadlec, Suchy, Pudil; Skalak, Darida, Pavelka, Krejci; Skoda, Kadlec.

Northern Ireland (3-5-2): McGovern; McNair, McAuley, J. Evans; Smith, Davis, C. Evans, Norwood, Dallas; Washington, Magennis.