CZECHOSLOVAKIA may no longer exist following the ‘Velvet Divorce’ of 1993 that brought the birth of two independent countries in central Europe.
But there were parallels last night between the 1974 visit of the old Soviet state to Wembley and England hosting Czech Republic.
For a start both fixtures brought the opening shots in a European Championship qualifying campaign for a Three Lions side led by a Yorkshire-based manager.
Both were also won resoundingly by the hosts, Don Revie enjoying what seemed to be a dream start to his reign with a 3-0 victory.
Where Gareth Southgate is likely to differ from Revie today, however, is in his mood. The former Leeds United manager was famously downcast when speaking to son Duncan in his London hotel room the morning after what many had considered to be a great night for English football.
“We haven’t got the players,” bemoaned Revie to his son. “There is no Bremner and no one like Giles.”
Anyone who chats to Southgate today is unlikely to find the England manager in such low spirits.
Instead, the Harrogate-based 48-year-old should be full of the joys of Spring after his side kicked off another year of international football in a similar vein to how they had finished 2018.
Raheem Sterling grabbed the headlines and the man-of-the-match award with a hat-trick as the Czechs were bounced out of Wembley.
But just as encouraging from an England perspective was how Jadon Sancho fared on his full debut. The precociously talented Borussia Dortmund teenager looked immediately at home on the big stage, creating the opener for Sterling and rarely giving the overworked Czech defence a moment’s rest.
Adding to the satisfaction no doubt felt by Southgate ahead of Monday’s trip to Montenegro is how well two more of his exciting band of youngsters fared on debut from the bench.
Declan Rice and Callum Hudson-Odoi, the latter like Sancho born since the turn of the Millennium, displayed enough to suggest the pair have a big role to play in a Euro 2020 campaign that the country hopes can end where it began last night, at Wembley.
Much better teams than this will have to be overcome to reach that final, of course. But the ease with which England picked apart Czech Republic boded well.
Typical of their incisive play was the opening goal on 24 minutes. Harry Kane, collecting a Ross Barkley pass 35 yards from goal, spun quickly and looked up to see Sancho galloping down the right flank.
A slide-rule pass that left-back Filip Novak had no hope of intercepting duly released the jet-heeled teenager, whose first time cross was converted by Sterling sliding in at the back post.
Much was made last year of how much England’s revival on the international stage had been built on set-pieces – half of their 28 goals in 2018 coming via free-kicks, corners and penalties.
The quite delightful passing move involving Southgate’s front three that broke the deadlock suggests a new finesse has been found among a fast-evolving squad.
England’s second on the stroke of half-time was from the spot. Kane did the honours with a fiercely-struck finish from 12 yards after Sterling had crashed to the floor when sandwiched between Pavel Kaderabek and Tomas Kalas.
Jaroslav Silhavy’s response was to bring Matej Vydra off the bench at the start of the second half.
For a time the visitors were much improved with Tomas Soucek desperately unlucky to see his flicked header from a free-kick bounce an inch or so wide of Jordan Pickford’s goal. David Pavelka also shot straight at the England goalkeeper soon after when he should have done better.
Then, though, England clicked back into gear once again. The third goal came along just after the hour, Sterling turning Ondrej Celustka easily before firing beyond Jifi Pavlenka.
His first international hat-trick arrived six minutes later. Cutting in from the left flank, Sterling steadied himself before unleashing a shot that took a wicked deflection off Celustka to leave the Czech goalkeeper horribly wrong-footed.
Southgate withdrew Sterling, who not so long ago went 27 England games without a goal, to a standing ovation a couple of minutes later, Hudson-Odoi coming on in his place.
The teenager has not started a Premier League game yet, but Southgate clearly subscribes to the theory, ‘If you’re good enough, you’re old enough’.
His reward for such faith came six minutes from time when Hudson-Odoi’s snapshot was saved by Pavlenka only for the ball to rebound against Tomas Kalas. He could only watch in horror as the ball ricocheted into the net to cap a horrible night for Czech Republic and leave Southgate beaming with pride at the final whistle.
England: Pickford; Walker, Keane, Maguire, Chilwell; Alli ( Rice 63), Dier (Barkley 16), Henderson; Sancho, Kane, Sterling (Hudson-Odoi 70). Unused substitutes: Heaton, Butland, Trippier, Rose, Tarkowski, Rice, Ward-Prowse, Wilson.
Czech Republic: Pavlenka; Kaderabek, Celustka, Kalas, Novak; Soucek, Pavelka; Selassie, Darida (Masopust 67), Jankto (Vydra 46); Schick (Skoda 82). Unused substitutes: Kolar, Koubek, Coufal, Zmrhal, Dockal, Frydek, Kral, Suchy, Kudela, Skoda.
Referee: Artur Dias (Portugal).