Scotland’s Euro 2020 campaign began with disappointment this afternoon as David Marshall’s otherwise impressive performance will be overshadowed by one calamitous error that will be replayed around the continent throughout the remainder of the tournament.
Steve Clarke’s side and the tartan army were full of hope going into their first major international tournament since 1998. Opening against a Czech Republic team that they were more than capable of beating meant Scotland had hope of reaching the knockout stages of a European Championship at a third of time trying, after failing to do so in both 1992 and 1996. However, it was not to be. Patrik Schick was on the score sheet twice as the 25-year old broke Scottish hearts.
Perhaps the biggest surprise pre-match was that Arsenal’s Kieran Tierney was missing from the starting lineup and indeed the substitute bench. The £25 million pound man had not completed the last training session ahead of the match and several reports said he was being protected ahead of Friday’s trip to Wembley.
Recent History was in Scotland’s favour
The Czech Republic had failed to beat Scotland in each of the last four attempts, drawing 1 and losing 3, so, Scotland’s confident start was easy to understand. Liverpool left-back Andy Robertson sent Scotland down the left-wing early on but his cross could not reach Lyndon Dykes who waited in the middle.
Moments later Scotland had the first corner of the match. The ball was met by Aston Villa’s John McGinn who twice tried to take advantage of a poor clearance. McGinn’s half-hearted penalty appeals were rightly ignored by Daniel Siebert, the German referee.
The visitors then started to grow into the game and David Marshall was quick to react to a Patrik Schick shot at his near post as the Derby keeper turned the ball behind for a corner. The resulting corner was then blazed over the bar in an attempt that never threatened Scotland.
Scotland continued to push forward and midway through the first half Celtic’s Ryan Christie had his best moment of the match as he skipped through the Czech defence before running into teammate Stephen O’Donnell, stopping Christie in his tracks and allowing the Czechs to clear their lines.
As the half-hour marked past Christie found himself in possession again and noticed a darting run from skipper Andy Robertson on the left. Robertson struck the ball well and despite the ball always rising, it certainly looked goal bound. Tomas Vaclik, the Czech keeper, was forced into a save as he tipped it over the bar preventing Scotland from taking the lead.
Three minutes before the break and it was a worst-case scenario for the home side. After a succession of corner kicks for the visitors, West Ham United’s Vladimir Coufal found himself in space on Scotland’s left-hand side. Stephen O’Donnell could not close him down quick enough as he whipped the ball into the middle of the penalty area where it was met by Patrik Schick. Despite the challenge from two Scotland defenders, Schick’s header found the back of the net to give the Czech Republic a lead as halftime approached.
Steve Clarke realised change was required at halftime and opted to bring on Che Adams in place of Ryan Christie.
David Marshall done well to keep the Czech’s out and Scotland in the game. Until……..
David Marshall was called into action again early in the second half but Scotland appeared to respond perfectly thereafter. Adams controlled the ball well in the middle of the park and when Dykes jumped for a cross from the left the ball was cleared to the edge of the area where it was met by Jack Hendry. Hendry, who found the net in a warm-up game against the Dutch, caught the ball well and struck the crossbar. Scotland looked far from out of the game.
Soon after, Andy Robertson long ball forward into the edge of the area came off the shin of Tomas Kalas. Czech keeper, Vaclik, had to track back quickly to paw the ball away from the goal and Lyndon Dykes who was closing in.
As the 52nd minute came, disaster struck Scotland. Jack Hendry found himself high up the park and tried to drive the ball forward but the ball deflected off of an advancing Czech defender and went straight into the patch of Patrick Schick. Schick let the ball roll past him and sweetly struck from the halfway line after seeing David Marshall almost thirty yards off of his line. Marshall’s attempt’s to trackback were too little too late as both he and the ball ended up in the back of the net. Suddenly the Czech Republic were up 2-0 and Scotland’s rallying attempts felt as though they were for nothing.
Scotland continued to push forward in an attempt to get back into the game. Strikes from Dykes and McGinn were matched by saves from Vaclik. Dykes found himself with only the keeper to beat with 25 minutes to play but his touch turned straight towards the Sevilla keeper instead of into the bottom corner. This really wasn’t going to be Scotland’s day.
Clarke made more changes but Ryan Fraser and Callum McGregor’s introduction felt uninspiring as there was no change to shape or momentum for Scotland. Kevin Nisbett and James Forrest were later introduced but Scotland fans were left asking why the likes of Nathan Patterson and Billy Gilmour remained on the bench. Scotland had nothing left to lose at this point and the introduction of two young talented players who could inject pace, excitement and attacking flair to the squad would have been a risk worth taking, if nothing more than to test the boys at the highest international level.
The Czech’s seemed happy to let Scotland retain possession and come forward, almost as if they were confident of handling Scotland’s lack of quality in front of goal. That saw the game out and Scotland’s first major international tournament game since losing 3-0 to Morocco on the 23rd June 1998, ended in a 2-0 defeat.
John McGinn spoke honestly after the game telling BBC Sport :
“We can say we played well alright, 2-0 flatters them a wee bit, but they had quality at the right moment”.
Steve Clarke seemed to reiterate McGinn’s opinion his side played well adding to BBC Sport:
“It was quite an even game between the two sides, I dont think there was much in it. They were more clinical with their chances”.
Its on to Friday now for Scotland where they will travel to Wembley to meet Gareth Southgate’s England. Clarke will be hoping Tierney is available for selection whilst considering his options in various positions around the park. The question will be whether to stick with the players who done well today, but ultimately failed, or go with a more progressive approach and give those a chance who finished the season strongly in their own domestic side’s.
Only time will tell how Steve Clarke decides to answer those questions, but one thing is for sure, if he doesn’t get them right, it will be another first-round exit for Scotland at a European Championship and tartan army will be fearful of how long it will be before another return can be made.