Surprising Czechs, Iceland battle for top spot

Both previously unfancied sides have notched impressive wins against World Cup semi-finalists the Netherlands on their way to claiming nine points from their first three matches.


Iceland top the group on goal difference from the Czechs, with the Dutch six points behind in third.

“Against the odds we won against the Netherlands and it cheered us up in the right way which was reflected in our performances in Turkey and Kazakhstan,” Czech goalkeeper Petr Cech told reporters.

“(Iceland) are well organised, committed, tough and their biggest weapon is the teamwork, they work hard for the team not only in defence but also in the attack.”

The match marks a homecoming for Czech manager Pavel Vrba who led Viktoria Plzen to two league titles and the group stage of the Champions League before taking over the national side at the start of 2014.

After failing to qualify for this year’s World Cup in Brazil, Vrba has quickly reinvigorated a side that had found it difficult to put the ball in the net.

Midfielder Borek Dockal has been instrumental in the Czechs revival in front of goal, scoring in each of their first three qualifiers.

Vrba’s squad, led by midfielder Tomas Rosicky, has a strong Plzen flavour with five members of the national side selected from the Czech league leaders.

But Vrba must do without first-choice left back David Limbersky and combative midfielder Lukas Vacha who have been ruled out with injuries which could keep them sidelined until the New Year.

“When your defensive midfielder and a full-back is gone, it means a heavy blow to the defence,” Vrba said. “I believe the team, which has been built for some time, will cope with the situation.”

Despite winning all four previous home fixtures against Iceland, the Czechs will be wary of their opponents’ scintillating start to the qualifying campaign.

Midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson is the group’s leading scorer with four goals and Iceland also boast a mean defensive record.

Since taking charge three years ago, coach Lars Lagerback has instilled huge defensive discipline into his side and they are reaping the rewards after keeping three clean sheets during victories over Turkey, the Netherlands and Latvia.

(Additional reporting by Robert Mueller, Editing by Michael Hann)