Belfast Telegraph

Czech Rep v Northern Ireland: Confident Jarolím warns Michael O'Neill's men to prepare for defeat

We'll beat Northern Ireland on Sunday: new coach Jarolim

By Steven Beacom

New Czech Republic coach Karel Jarolím has confidently predicted that his team will defeat Northern Ireland in Sunday's opening World Cup qualifier in Prague.

It is a bold statement from 60-year-old Jarolim, who was appointed in the summer after Pavel Vrba left the post following a dreadful Euro 2016 finals, and one that his counterpart Michael O'Neill will no doubt aim to use to his advantage.

Northern Ireland will enter the Group C encounter at the weekend on a high having reached the knockout stages of the finals in France.

The fact that only Chris Baird retired from international duty after the tournament was a boost for O'Neill and, while the influential Craig Cathcart is missing the weekend's game through injury, West Brom duo Gareth McAuley and Jonny Evans present a formidable partnership at centre back.

They won't be a problem to the Czechs, however, according to Jarolim.

He took charge of his first match for the Czech Republic earlier this week with his young side beating Armenia 3-0 at home in a friendly.

The result was conclusive but the Armenians were all over the place at times, so while O'Neill will respect the opposition, they certainly won't enter Sunday's game with any fear.

In the successful Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, Northern Ireland started with a 2-1 victory in Hungary and there will be feeling amongst captain Steven Davis and his team-mates that they have the capabilities to do the same this time.

Jarolim, minus retired goalkeeper Petr Cech, aims to ensure the Green and White Army will have little to celebrate.

Speaking about his side's friendly win, the Czech Republic coach stated: "I was happy with the team. Their gusto and their determination reflected what we are after. That makes me happy.

"It's important that we do the same on Sunday, but I think that performance should help mentally in the first match (against Northern Ireland)."

Asked about the weekend World Cup qualifier, Jarolim didn't hold back.

"I believe we will win (against Northern Ireland). We should go into the match in a good state of mind and be encouraged by this performance," he stated in emphatic mood.

"I speak for myself and I dare say that even the players will feel that way, but we won't rest on our laurels.

"There's still room for improvement. We can't ignore our errors.

"We have to evaluate whether, in certain situations, we should go for a risk otherwise the opponent might get a breakaway."

Jarolim, who is hoping to build the current squad into a force to be reckoned with like Czech sides of old, added that it is important that his team focus for all of the match rather than play well in patches as was the case against Armenia.

But there is a genuine sense of confidence in his tone about the young players at his disposal.

"It's obvious that we have intelligent players that know how to play football," he says.

Against Armenia Ladisalv Krejci, Vaclav Kadlec and Jan Kopic scored the goals for the Czechs, who essentially played two different sides in each half.

Jarolim added: "I have not said that the group which started the first half will be identical to the one against Northern Ireland. I wanted to get a picture. I'll think about it and then decide."

One major issue for the Czechs is in defence. The clean sheet against Armenia was only their second in 26 outings.

Finishing bottom of their group in the Euro finals, they conceded five goals in three games and O'Neill will believe he has the personnel to attack that weakness.

Whether or not he will start Kyle Lafferty up front will be interesting.

While numerous other Northern Ireland players made moves in the transfer window, the Fermanagh man has stayed put with Norwich City despite hardly seeing any game time for the Canaries over the past year.

Potential moves to Reading, Palermo and Cardiff City fell by the wayside on transfer deadline day, though even allowing for that disappointment Lafferty will back himself to deliver against the Czechs.

Conor Washington, Josh Magennis and the in-form Liam Boyce will also be in the frame to lead the line in Prague.

Northern Ireland's players have enjoyed a week long training camp in Austria and are due to fly to the Czech capital tomorrow. They fancy another memorable adventure which takes them all the way to World Cup in Russia 2018.

Belfast Telegraph


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