England fell to their first qualifying defeat in a decade as debutant Zdenek Ondrasek secured the Czech Republic a deserved victory against Gareth Southgate’s stuttering side.
The Three Lions arrived in Prague knowing victory would assure progress to Euro 2020 with three matches to spare – and few expected anything other than an away win given the 5-0 shellacking handed out to the Czechs at Wembley in March’s Group A opener at Wembley.
Expectation grew with Harry Kane’s early spot-kick, only for Jakub Brabec to quickly bring the Czech Republic level and provide the platform for substitute Ondrasek to punish a ponderous England performance and seal a shock 2-1 win.
It ended a 43-match unbeaten run in Euro and World Cup qualifying matches stretching back to a 1-0 loss in Ukraine in October 2009 – and was a result Southgate’s men could hardly argue with.
After Kane opened the scoring in the fifth minute, England looked lacklustre in attack and susceptible at the back as the alarming defending in last month’s 5-3 win against Kosovo was repeated.
Brabec was all too easily able to level from a ninth-minute corner as the Czechs played with confidence throughout the first half and kicked on after the break at a bouncing Sinobo Stadium.
Jordan Pickford was having a far busier night in Prague than he will have expected and was beaten five minutes from time by debutant Ondrasek – a gut punch that will not derail Euro 2020 qualification but raises big questions.
England will try to make amends in Bulgaria on Monday, when changes can be expected from the side that faltered here.
Kane hopes the defeat will be a “wake-up call” for England.
“We went ahead early, it was the perfect start to an away game,” he said.
“But after that we were sloppy with the ball. They obviously scored not long after and we didn’t move it as quickly as we normally do.
“We weren’t fighting, we weren’t pressing as much as we normally do. In the second half (we were) a little bit better, we had a couple of chances to put the game to bed and we didn’t.”
Kane was mindful that the loss means England go to Bulgaria under greater pressure.
“Every away game in Europe is difficult,” he said.
“They had the crowd behind them, maybe the pitch isn’t as great and as easy to play on. But there’s no excuse, we’ve played in these games before and we have to do better than tonight.
“It’s a bit of a wake-up call, of course we’re still in a good position so there’s no need to panic. We obviously have to win the game on Monday but, for sure, we’ve still got stuff to work on.”
Southgate handed Mason Mount his first international start, but he resisted too much experimentation in Prague, where it looked like this would be another cakewalk after Raheem Sterling raced through and cutback to draw a challenge from Lukas Masopust.
Referee Damir Skomina pointed to the spot and Kane stepped up to send Tomas Vaclik the wrong way in the fifth minute – a lead that did not last long as Pickford’s calls for concentration fell on deaf ears after he impressively stopped Vladimir Coufal.
Jakub Jankto swung in a corner and Ondrej Celustka directed it on for Brabec, who bundled home at the far post to send the Sinobo Stadium crowd wild four minutes after falling behind.
It proved not only an impressive response but a statement of intent from Jaroslav Silhavy’s side. Danny Rose received a booking that rules him out of the trip to Bulgaria as the Czechs continued to attack with confidence, looking particularly dangerous from set pieces as Tomas Soucek and Patrik Schick threatened England’s floundering defence.
Jan Boril saw a hopeful effort denied by Pickford and Masopust dragged horribly wide as Southgate’s men struggled to get a hold on proceedings, with a blocked Kane effort the best they could muster as the welcome respite of a half-time break approached.
Vladimir Darida and Soucek tried their luck when play resumed against an England side unable to show their undoubted attacking ability until a quick passing move got Sterling behind the Czech defence, only for Vaclik to smartly deny the attempt to round him.
It was a clever stop followed by a fine save at the other end as Masopust struck from outside the box, forcing Pickford to tip over in eye-catching fashion.
Jordan Henderson saw a bobbling attempt saved as England’s inability to take control of the match clearly began to grate on players, with Sterling booked for his angry protest when he realised an attack had long been halted for a foul.
Pickford denied Alex Kral at his near post and Kane was thwarted by Vaclik as both sides pushed for a decided in the closing stages.
A winner would arrive in the 85th minute as the Czechs capitalised on over-elaborate England play at the back.
Pickford’s clipped pass was picked off and Masopust burst down the right before cutting back for sub Ondrasek to sweeping home a famous winner for the hosts.