International round-up: Wins for Vladimír Coufal and Tomáš Souček
Vladimír Coufal and Tomáš Souček both tasted victory for Czech Republic on a night of mixed fortunes for West Ham United’s international stars.
The former Slavia Prague – and now West Ham – clubmates both started the Czechs’ 1-0 Nations League Group B2 win at home to Israel on Sunday evening.
Both Hammers fought hard in the red strip of Czech Republic as they sought to break down a stubborn Israel side and make up ground on group leaders Scotland.
And it was Coufal who laid on the breakthrough at the end of a rapid counter attack, playing in Vladimir Darida to open the scoring in the seventh minute.
A diligent defensive performance followed in the second half, with that proving enough for Czech Republic to take all three points at Doosan Arena.
The result means that Coufal and Souček may yet still qualify for next autumn’s 2021 Nations League finals, but they will need to beat Slovakia on 18 November and hope that Scotland fail to win in Israel that same night.
Declan Rice played the full 90 minutes for England as the Three Lions’ hopes of qualifying for the finals ended with a 2-0 defeat against Belgium in Leuven.
Two early goals proved the undoing of Gareth Southgate’s side, with the first arriving courtesy of a deflection – and the second a contentious decision.
Despite appearing to win the ball first before being caught on the follow-through by Kevin de Bruyne, Rice was penalised after 23 minutes – before Dries Mertens promptly dispatched a superb free-kick.
England had plenty of possession in the remainder of the game but could not find their way back into the game, meaning they will finish third in Group A2; Wednesday’s game at home to Iceland now holds little competitive consequence.
West Ham’s two senior Irish footballers, meanwhile, both suffered narrow defeats for their respective sides.
In goal for the senior team, Darren Randolph was on the wrong end of a second loss to a home nation as the Republic of Ireland went down 1-0 at Wales’ Cardiff City Stadium.
Despite Stephen Kenny’s Boys in Green having the better of the opportunities in a hard-fought first half, Wales took the lead midway through the second when David Brooks thundered in to convert Gareth Bale’s looping header from close range.
Wales could have stretched their lead through Brooks again were it not for an outstanding save from Randolph mere minutes later, the shot-stopper standing tall as Brooks ran through on the counter, before tipping his effort over the bar in spectacular style.
Jeff Hendricks was dismissed in injury time for a professional foul on Bale for the Republic of Ireland, who now sit third, just a point in front of Bulgaria in Nations League Group B4.
Their final match of the group is against the bottom side in Dublin on Wednesday, against whom a loss would see them relegated to the third tier of the competition.
For West Ham U23s captain Conor Coventry, who has been a lynchpin of Republic of Ireland’s team during their 2021 European U21 Championship qualification campaign, there was late heartbreak at home to fellow high-flyers Iceland.
Ireland went into the Group A match knowing that three points would have put them in pole position to finish as runners-up – and thus have a great chance of qualifying – but it was Iceland who made the brighter start, taking the lead through Sveinn Gudjohnsen’s 25th-minute finish.
Coventry and Ireland pressed for the equaliser but, despite creating some good chances, could not secure it before half-time.
They continued to mount pressure upon Iceland, however, and got their just rewards when Lee O’Connor’s cross took a deflection off defender Arif Leisson and trickled into the net with a quarter-of-an-hour remaining.
Coventry made way with seven minutes remaining as Ireland brought on their attacking reserves, but a red card for Stoke’s Nathan Collins granted Iceland the encouragement they needed to strike a winner in the third minute of injury-time.
Ireland U21s now need to win away at bottom side Luxembourg on Wednesday and hope Iceland fail to win at Armenia – a fixture cancelled due to cases of COVID-19 among the Armenian side.
Goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski, meanwhile, was an unused substitute as Poland lost 2-0 away at Italy’s Mapei Stadium in Nations League Group A1.
The Poles could still qualify for next autumn’s finals, but will require victory at home to the Netherlands on Wednesday night – and for Italy to fail to beat Bosnia & Herzegovina.