West Ham United's Tomáš Souček captains Czech Republic to vital FIFA World Cup qualifying victory
Tomáš Souček captained the Czech Republic to a vital 2-0 FIFA World Cup qualifying win over Belarus on Monday evening.
The West Ham United midfielder was at the heart of the action as the Czechs dominated their opponents in the Russian city of Kazan, securing victory through a goal in each half to keep their hopes of reaching Qatar very much alive.
Bayer Leverkusen striker Patrick Schick, who impressed at UEFA Euro 2020, was again the star man, scoring the opening goal on 22 minutes before setting up Sparta Prague forward Adam Hložek to double his country’s advantage on 65.
Earning his 45th cap, Souček played the full 90 minutes, while his West Ham teammates made his 27th appearance for the Czechs as a late substitute.
The Czech Republic will hope to secure a play-off place when they host Estonia in their final Group E fixture on 16 November. Rivals Wales are level on points with the Czechs, but with a game in-hand, but the Welsh face group leaders Belgium in their own final game on the same night, following a home match with Belarus three days earlier.
Nikola Vlašić and Croatia’s hopes of securing automatic qualification took a hit as they drew 2-2 at home with Slovakia in Group H.
The Croats twice fell behind in Osijek, but twice fought back through goals from former Leicester City forward Andrej Kramarić and veteran Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modrić to snatch a point.
With Croatia trailing 2-1 at half-time, Vlašić was introduced as a substitute and helped his country level matters for a second time and grab what could turn out to be an important share of the spoils through Modrić’s 71st-minute free-kick.
However, with Russia securing a 2-1 win in Slovenia, Croatia now sit second in the table, two points behind the Russians with two games to play in November.
Both teams will expect to win their penultimate fixture – Croatia travel to Malta and Russia host Cyprus – before a potential winner-takes-all showdown on the final matchday in Vlašić’s home city of Split on 14 November.
The October international break comes to an end on Tuesday, with England’s Declan Rice, Ukraine’s Andriy Yarmolenko and Algeria’s Saïd Benrahma all potentially in World Cup qualifying action.