Czech Republic 2 England 1: Three Lions lose first qualifier in ten years and fluff early chance to book place at Euro 2020

THEY played like they had met in the pub car park half an hour before kick.

Strangers, ringers, first timers thrown in to secure qualification for Euro 2020.

Czech Republic 2 England 1: Three Lions lose first qualifier in ten years and fluff early chance to book place at Euro 20209 England's defensive display left much to be desiredCredit: Getty Images – Getty
Czech Republic 2 England 1: Three Lions lose first qualifier in ten years and fluff early chance to book place at Euro 20209 FC Dallas forward Zdenek Ondrasek hit the winnerCredit: Reuters

England, playing seat of the pants stuff these days, have been found out at the back.

The proud 43-game unbeaten run in qualies is over, coming to an end after Czech substitute Zdenek Ondrasek scored the winner five minutes from time.

There was no way back.

Perhaps this is the jolt England needed, a reality check after criss-crossing Europe over a spread of six qualifying games without defeat.

It was a truly appalling performance, one of the worst since Southgate turned England into a vibrant, energetic – watchable – team.

Tournament football was the incentive, a win away from making sure they will step out at Wembley next summer in a event that is weighted heavily in England’s favour.

Instead they fluffed it, made to wait until Monday in Bulgaria at least after failing to defend a lead given to them when Harry Kane scored from the spot after five minutes.

This was a puzzling, baffling England performance in Prague.

Czech Republic 2 England 1: Three Lions lose first qualifier in ten years and fluff early chance to book place at Euro 20209 Sterling was clearly tripped for the spot-kickCredit: AP:Associated Press
Czech Republic 2 England 1: Three Lions lose first qualifier in ten years and fluff early chance to book place at Euro 20209 Kane slotted his penalty down the middleCredit: AFP or licensors
Czech Republic 2 England 1: Three Lions lose first qualifier in ten years and fluff early chance to book place at Euro 20209 The early strike seemingly set England on their wayCredit: Getty Images – Getty

The Czechs were competitive.

They looked assured on the ball, establishing a game plan after Kane’s early penalty put England in front.

It was something of a culture shock to Southgate.

He is used to playing limited oppo in the qualies, with struggling countries lining out bodies across their own penalty area.

Instead these chippy Czechs played on their own terms, with their rhythmic one-touch first half football causing problems.

They quickly recovered to equalise after just nine minutes when England’s vulnerable defence could not clear a corner.

Kosovo caused them so many problems last month, scoring three times on a crazy night at St Mary’s.

This was more of the same, with Declan Rice failing to clear a corner taken by Jakub Jankto after nine minutes.

Ondrej Celustka touched it on and Jakub Brabec beat the shadowy figures in England’s defence to level.

They were entitled to it.

The celebrations, with Brabec setting off on a 50-yard run to celebrate with the coaching staff, were a tad enthusiastic.

Even so, they deserved to peg England back.

England had been ahead, for all of four minutes, when Kane despatched the 27th goal of his stellar career wearing this shirt.

Raheem Sterling had been taken out, tripped by Lukas Masopust as he was haring into the penalty area off the left flank.

Kane, who missed against Kosovo last month, won the mind games and sent Czech keeper Tomas Vaclik sprawling to his right.

Even with the lead, something did not smell right about this performance.

Jordan Henderson, usually so reliable in the boiler room for club and country, misplaced a couple of ambitious passes.

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