In years gone by, the Czechs would have been strong favourites for this tie, although there is a real dearth of quality in the squad at the moment, with Tomas Rosicky and Petr Cech the only two star names in the side and Michal Bílek somewhat reliant on Milan Baros to score goals for the team.
That’s the reason why the bookies are happy to take on the Republic, offering 3/1 (Paddy Power free bets) about Czech Republic winning this match, with the side having stormed through the play-offs against Montenegro by winning 3-0 on aggregate.
However, Russia do look a lot stronger on paper and there has been a concerted gamble on Dick Advocaat’s side in the last 24 hours which has seen the price collapse from 6/4 to 6/5 (William Hill free £25 bet). Perhaps we might even see Russia’s odds touch even money before kick-off.
Advocaat certainly has a talented squad at his disposal and qualifying was a hard-fought affair considering that Ireland and Slovakia were also tussling for a place in the finals. However, Russia came out on top and are now favourites to top a weak-looking Group A.
There has been much discussion over which striker will start this match although it appears that Alan Dzagoev and Andrei Arshavin are going to flank Aleksandr Kerzhakov, especially as the latter pair have worked well at Zenit this season.
The 29-year-old scores over a goal every two games for his club side and looks a great bet to open the scoring in this encounter at 7/1 (Ladbrokes), although Arshavin and Dzagoev should offer plenty of support and they can potentially fill their boots against what looks like a weak defence.
Russia have the class to win this match comfortably, having previously beaten a talented Italy team 3-0 in a friendly thanks to a goal from Kerzhakov and a brace from Shirokov. Another win by this scoreline must be considered and odds of 33/1 (BetVictor) look pretty generous about this happening.
After all, the Czechs were most recently beaten 2-1 at home to Hungary in a friendly match, while a 2-1 win against Israel was also far from convincing and suggests that this is a team with a defensive vulnerability about them.
The draw is priced at 9/4 and it’s worth noting that a lot of opening major tournaments have both teams set up not to lose the match and stay very much alive going into the second game of the competition.
However, the Russians will look upon this match as potentially the easiest of the bunch and it would be a surprise if they weren’t celebrating come the final whistle.