England 5 Czech Republic 0
This has been Raheem Sterling’s season in more ways than one, and there will surely be more significant nights to come, but his first hat-trick for England in the stadium he watched being built anew as a child will rank pretty high for the coming force of English football.
This was also England as the way they see themselves now, picking off the next highest ranked team in their Euro 2020 qualifying group with considerable ease in these high-expectation, post-Russia days. They were superior all over the pitch but what so many of the top ranked nations would give for a player like Sterling, able to score all sorts of goals.
He began the night with just four for his country in 47 previous caps, and until his two against Spain in Seville in October his goalscoring record was the key criticism of his international career. This is the Sterling of the Pep Guardiola years, on 48 caps and still nine months short of his 25th birthday, a scorer of goals sliding in at the back post, shots hit on the turn and long range efforts handily deflected. He got all of those at Wembley in this epic goalscoring season of his that now totals 24 for club and country.
Sterling departed to a standing ovation in the stadium that stands just a mile from where he went to school and the estate where he grew up after his family’s move from Jamaica. This could have been a night that was dominated by Harry Kane, who scored England’s second from a penalty won by Sterling but you get the feeling that the younger man is less willing to play the support act now.
Southgate said later that he saw a different figure in Sterling from the one who has in the past bore the brunt of the England dissatisfaction. “So mature and comfortable in himself,” was his assessment of the Manchester City man. “The finishes he took on without thinking too much. In the past you could see the thought process. He is hungry for those goals, he has added that. I thought he was devastating.”
There was a debut for Declan Rice, 20, his teenage views on the IRA seeming to have no effect on the warm reception afforded to this international curiosity, a new signing from the Republic of Ireland, when he came on in the second half. Replacing Sterling for his first England cap was the 18-year-old Callum Hudson-Odoi who might have had a goal himself in the later stages, the rebound inexplicably turned into his own goal by Tomas Kalas, Chelsea’s perennial loanee, now at Bristol City.
Starting the game was Jadon Sancho in place of the injured Marcus Rashford, his second start for his country and his first in a competitive game. The Czechs struggled against the pace and energy of this renewed England attack. It was Sancho who created Sterling’s first goal, the 18-year-old a thorn in the left side of the Czech team all night. They were overwhelmed in the end and their manager, Jaroslav Silhavy, spoke in terms of the “high quality” of the opposition afterwards in the way that opposition managers have not always described England.
Ranked 44th in the world by Fifa, the Czechs are nominally the second highest rated team in England’s group but it was notable that they were never in this. In front of a sold-out, if not full Wembley, Southgate selected a 4-3-3 formation, the night’s only regret being the early injury to Eric Dier. He tried and failed to run off a hip problem and was replaced by Ross Barkley with Jordan Henderson moved back into a deeper role.
If there was a standout moment then it was the glorious move that prefaced the first goal, with 25 consecutive passes and the entire team involved at one point or another, save for Alli. The finale was a spectacular ball from Kane down the right that wrong-footed the full-back Filip Novak and released the fleet-footed Sancho to the byline. He crossed for Sterling to arrive at the back post to get enough of a connection for the goal.
It was the last touch of the first half with which Kane rattled his penalty past Jiri Pavlenka in the Czech goal. Sterling won it, breaking this time into the left channel of the box and drawing at least three opponents onto him. Tomas Soucek thrust an arm across the Englishman, Pavel Kaderabek and then Kalas piled in too and by the time the winger went down there was not much argument about any of it.
There was a brief flourish from the Czechs at the start of the second half when Jordan Pickford was briefly required but Southgate’s team came back with a vengeance. They are a hard-running bunch and by the end you got the impression that Wembley felt a big place for the visitors. Sterling’s second, after the hour, came from a driving run from Kyle Walker down the right. There was another unfortunate ricochet and suddenly Sterling had the ball at his feet, spinning away from Ondrej Celustka to hit with his left.
His hat-trick came on 68 minutes when Barkley was permitted to gallop about 50 yards forward before threading the ball left. Sterling’s right-foot shot clipped Celustka and beat Pavlenka. In the interim, Rice had come on for Alli and, after Sterling scored his third, he was replaced by Hudson-Odoi. He will be difficult to leave out again, the confidence that Southgate has talked about all week evident.
Kalas inadvertently scored the fifth after a shot from the Chelsea teenager was saved. It was something of an embarrassment, although not unexpected given the Czech standard of defending. They had been overwhelmed by England who move onto Podgorica on Monday for the qualifier against Montenegro as a team in form. Southgate’s side are ranked fifth in the world and no one could deny that for once, the men in white shirts, are playing like one of the big guns too.
England (4-3-3): Pickford; Walker, Keane, Maguire, Chilwell; Henderson, Dier (Barkley 17), Alli (Rice 63); Sancho, Kane, Sterling (Hudson-Odoi 70).
Subs: Heaton (g), Trippier, Rose, Tarkowski, Ward-Prowse, Wilson, Butland (g).
Czech Republic (4-2-3-1): Pavlenka; Kaderabek, Celustka, Kalas, Novak; Soucek, Pavelka, Gebre-Selassie; Darida (Masopust 67), Jankto (Vydra 46); Schick (Skoda 82).
Subs: Kolar (g), Coufal, Zmrhal, Dockal, Frydek, Kral, Suchy, Kudela, Koubek (g).
Booked: Kaderabek, Schick.
Referee: Artur Dias (Portugal).
Full time: England 5 Czech Republic 0
In the end, it was even more emphatic than the 4-0 dispatching of the Bohemian national team in Prague back in 1908. Raheem Sterling will take the headlines with his hat-trick, and there were positive all over the park, but the Czechs were a slightly sad non-entity at Wembley.
Montenegro (a) in a few days might be a little trickier, but this was a bouncy way to get the qualifiers started.
90+1 min - England 5 Czech Republic 0
Hudson-Odi falls awkwardly as the 90 minutes draw to a close, but he's up and limping as the two minutes of added-on time commence.
GOAL! England 5 (Kalas og, 84 min) Czech Republic 0
Christ. Callum Hudson-Odoi goes for goal, cutitng inside and forcing Pavelka to parry it...straight at Tomas Kalas, who can do little to stop it bouncing right back into the Czech net.
81 min - England 4 Czech Republic 0
A Mexican wave engulfs a cheerfully chilled Wembley as England pop the ball about in a "4-0 up" kind of way. The Czechs take advantage and Vydra sidefoots just wide.
76 min - England 4 Czech Republic 0
Save! Bored of laying it on a plate for everyone else, Harry Kane attempts some vintage Harry Kane - he squirts a shot goalwards from 20 yards but Pavelka turns it away.
74 min - England 4 Czech Republic 0
Still some time for some English carelessness: an errant crossfield pass from Walker is pounced on by Schick, but his left-foot shot flashes past Pickford's right-hand post.
70 min - England 4 Czech Republic 0
Sub: off goes Sterling to a standing ovation, and on comes 18-year-old Callum Hudson-Odoi. Youth!
GOAL! England 4 (Sterling, 68 min) Czech Republic 0
Hat-trick for Raheem Sterling! This one was deflected, but literally nobody cares. He pops up on the left, goes for the right-foot curler this time, it hits a Czech shoulder and leaves Pavelka stranded.
66 min - England 3 Czech Republic 0
Ross Barkley, who has looked very purposeful tonight, digs his way to the byline, but his cut-back is cut out by a red shirt.
GOAL! England 3 (Sterling, 62 min) Czech Republic 0
We will see Declan Rice's England debut after all - Dele Alli's evening shift is almost done. First, though, England have a third! Walker bursts forward, slides a pass in for Raheem Sterling - via a ricochet - and the little man does the rest: he cuts back on to his left, the entire Czech defence stands and watches, and he curls the ball into the far corner!
60 min - England 2 Czech Republic 0
Chance! Sterling bursts down the left, slips in Harry Kane to the byline, Sancho waits for the cut-back....only to be denied by the retreating Novak!
59 min - England 2 Czech Republic 0
The England band is going strong at Wembley; a sure sign that the match itself has plateaued. The Czechs are making a game of it in the early knockings of the second half, but it would be quite something if even this half-awake England side throw a 2-0 lead away here.
56 min - England 2 Czech Republic 0
Close! An English cross from the left is diverted goalwards by....Czech left-back Filip Novak but Pavlenka gets down quickly to prevent a slapstick own goal.
53 min - England 2 Czech Republic 0
Chance! A low Czech corner is met by the right foot of David Pavelka, unmarked, and Jordan Pickford has to react quickly to stop it on the line! England have gone to sleep a bit.
51 min - England 2 Czech Republic 0
Kane moves level with Keegan, Gerrard and Channon on 21 England goals. Needs one more to equal @petercrouch though...
— Mark Mann-Bryans (@MarkyMBryans) March 22, 2019
That's the second-half project sorted. Henderson trips a Czech out on the England left, and they must now face a free-kick, which is flicked on by the head of Tomas Soucek...and the ball just skips wide of the far post!
48 min - England 2 Czech Republic 0
Kane plays playmaker again, his markers wondering where he's got to, and he sets Barkley down the right...but the low cross needs another Kane in the middle to finish it off.
We go again...
The Czechs introduce a familiar face - Burnley striker Matej Vydra - for the second half.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 22, 2019
GOAL! England 2 (Kane pen, 45+2) Czech Republic 0
Classic Harry Kane: deliberately power-charging run-up, slapped shot high to the left, goal. The keeper got a hand to it, but simply helped it on its way. England sitting pretty at half-time!
PENALTY TO ENGLAND!
Kane has a shot deflected wide after some tidy build-up featuring Henderson and Barkley. Next, Raheem Sterling takes the direct route, gets sandwiched, the referee has a long think about it....penno!
41 min - England 1 Czech Republic 0
Darida momentaril has some space in the England half to conjure something up, but Alli charges back to toe-poke the ball away for a corner. Jakub Jankto swings it in, but the referee calls another foul.
38 min - England 1 Czech Republic 0
England suddenly have a four-v-four deep in Czech territory, and Sterling sweeps the ball out to Sancho, but the return ball isn't accurate enough and the visitors survive for now. Sancho keeps his feet in the box next and then earns a corner with a lovely back-flick nutmeg.
36 min - England 1 Czech Republic 0
33 min - England 1 Czech Republic 0
Czech free-kick, which Darida tries to swing in from the left and worry Pickford, but there's a foul in the middle and England remain untroubled at the back.
30 min - England 1 Czech Republic 0
Wembley hardly rocking with that goal, but what can you do? Henderson has dropped back into the spot left by Dier, and Barkley is now the driving midfield presence. Kane drops deeps again - great false-nining here - and curls the ball towards Sterling at the back post, only for Pavlenka to get there first.
27 min - England 1 Czech Republic 0
That front three did what I asked, and pretty promptly too - nice. Now for England to stay on the front foot and not get careless (or, indeed, cocky.)
GOAL! England 1 (Sterling, 24 min) Czech Republic 0
23 minutes in, we have our first shot: Vladimir Darida hits one high and wide for the Czechs. England trying to build some attacking steam, but it's all earnest passing out from the back and little else, really. Until, that is, Harry Kane slides in Sancho down the right with a SUPERB pass, Sancho in turn slide the ball across, and Raheem Sterling pokes it home at the back post!
— ITV Football (@itvfootball) March 22, 2019
22 min - England 0 Czech Republic 0
Sancho switches to the left, where Ben Chilwell slips him in towards the byline, but his cross is pelted on to a Czech head at the near post. This England front three ought to be stretching that defence more, really, but still plenty of time to go.
19 min - England 0 Czech Republic 0
Walker bundles over Patrik Schick out wide, and England's bright-ish start has officially Fizzled Out a Bit.
16 min - England 0 Czech Republic 0
Kane drops deep, spots the run of Sterling and clips the ball into his path, but Ondrej Celustka is on hand to muscle him out of contention and allow Pavlenka to gather. Dier is now coming off...but it's actually Ross Barkley who is coming on. Rice will have to wait.
13 min - England 0 Czech Republic 0
First notable spell of possession for the Czechs, but it's suffocated by England's enthusiastic defensive pressing - this team is a nice balance of athleticism and gigantism, I think. But we pause for Dier to receive some treatment...and his evening might well be over. Declan Rice is warming up...
9 min - England 0 Czech Republic 0
Sancho releases Henderson down the right, and his cross is flapped away semi-convincingly by Czech keeper Jiri Pavlenka. England raid again down the left, but the visitors are well-stocked defensively down that flank. No VAR tonight, by the way: what will we talk about down the pub afterwards?
England force a corner, and summon forth the heavy artillery of Michael Keane and Harry Maguire. The Czechs eventually soak up the pressure.
6 min - England 0 Czech Republic 0
Dier crunches into a challenge on Theodor Gebre Selassie, getting 28% ball and 72% man, and it's another foul. Soon enough, though, Sancho is off scuttling infield with the ball and the Czechs are on the chase again.
3 min - England 0 Czech Republic 0
Sterling on the left, Sancho on the right: that's where they do their damage at club level, after all. England stroking the ball around with the sort of confidence only Uefa Nations League semi-finalists possess, before Eric Dier crashes into an aerial challenge to concede a free-kick on halfway.
1 min - England 0 Czech Republic 0
The visitors, in red shirts and white shorts, get things going at Wembley. Jadon Sancho gets an early, assured touch to get England on the front foot immediately, but Kyle Walker is snuffled out on the right flank.
Players are in the tunnel...
...Jordan Pickford doing his best not to look like a goalkeeper who's about to do something very hasty indeed in the next two hours or so. The qualifiers begin!
The new boys
JJ Bull has put together a quick guide to England's three new faces who could see some action from the bench tonight: Callum Hudson-Odoi, James Ward-Prowse and Declan Rice.
At 18 years old, Hudson-Odoi looks entirely ready to play for Chelsea in the Premier League but while Jadon Sancho has proven himself to be one of the most exciting attacking players in Europe by simply playing for Borussia Dortmund, Hudson-Odoi is spoken about by his manager as though still a footballing embryo. Sancho is eight months older.
From eight appearances in the Europa League, Hudson-Odoi has completed the joint highest number of dribbles, attempting 9.27 per 90 minutes - more than any player to have featured in as many games - and created the eighth most chances (3.27 per game). Quite what Chelsea are waiting for to make Hudson-Odoi Premier League ready is a mystery as the only way he'll improve at this stage of his career is by playing games. When he does he performs.
Retro Corner, Pt. 2
Martin Keown! Martin absolute Keown.
Not saying 1992 was weird but here's Martin Keown banging one top corner from the edge of the box for England against Czechoslovakia pic.twitter.com/eFXUck9rKm
— One Ball For Gazza (@OneBallForGazza) October 13, 2016
Nedved and the nearly men
Why have the Czech Republic failed to kick on from their golden generations of '96 and '04? Alan Tyers takes a closer look...
Back at Euro 1996, fully 15 of the Czech squad earned their living in the Czech league. By 2004, only five did. The superb crop of Petr Čech, Poborský, Rosický, Nedvěd and Baroš et al represented clubs at, or with pretensions to be at, Europe’s top table: Liverpool, Juventus, Borussia Dortmund, Monaco, Zenit Saint Petersburg, Ajax.
Having starters at major European teams is one thing: warming the bench or playing second tier is another.
“Many young Czech players now leave in their teens for big money abroad and far too often become squad filler,” said Prague-based sportswriter James Stafford. “They fail to get much game time and the knock on effect is stunted development. In an earlier era they would have grown within what was then a stronger domestic game.”
Retro Corner, Pt. 1
One of the all-time great England finishes at Wembley: Steve Bull rifles one home against the Czechs a few weeks before Italia '90...
A competitive full debut for Jadon Sancho! This is a solid-looking England side, alright.
— England (@England) March 22, 2019
As for the Czechs...
— Česká fotbalová reprezentace (@ceskarepre_cz) March 22, 2019
...they go with the dangerous Patrik Schick up front.
Forget it, he's injured, doesn't work.
Hello! It's 111 years since these two - sort of - first caught each other's eyes. In the summer of 1908, the England team embarked on a Continental tour: Austria were beaten 6-1 and 11-1, Hungary were seen off 7-0 (Ferenc Puskas not yet even a glint in a Budapesti milkman's eye), before Vivian Woodward and the lads arrived in Prague to take on the Bohemian national team, in the hosts' last ever international match as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Woodward was on one of his scorching goalscoring runs - 13 goals in his first seven internationals - and, having racked up goal difference of +22 on the tour, England were presumably pretty confident about wrapping things up with another cricket score.
But this wasn't just the Bohemian national side. All eleven players - including 16-year-old future Olympic ice hockey star Jaroslav Jirkovsky - were from the formidable Slavia Prague side. And their manager? A Scotsman - former Celtic winger Jake Madden - whose tactics eventually led them to 134 wins in 169 domestic matches in his 25-year reign. Woodward was kept quiet, England led just 1-0 at half-time, before they added three more to make things look respectable by full-time.
Over the next century and a bit, England have met the various incarnations of what is now the Czech Republic a mere fifteen times - winning 9 of them, including twice at World Cups, and losing just two.
It's more than a decade since they crossed paths, during one of England's many mini-doldrums. Wes Brown scored, David Bentley came off the bench, and this very newspaper's match report pulled no punches:
England were so poor here last night that their sponsors took the unprecedented step of voting an opponent, Jan Polak, as man of the match for fear of any white-shirted recipient being booed.
Still, everything's rosy now, we're World Cup semi-finalists, we're blooding teenage superstars-in-waiting left, right and centre and the road to Euro 2020 begins tonight. Team news coming next, but goal machine Vivian Woodward will not start for England due to dying in 1954.