After 23 long painful years without tournament football for Scotland, the Tartan Army finally kicked off in a tournament against the Czech Republic.
With rivals England and World Cup Runners up Croatia to come many felt pre-game that this opener was a must-win or perhaps in this new format where the best third-placed teams get out the group, it was a must not lose. Led by Steve Clarke, the Scots reached this tournament in perhaps the most nail-biting fashion possible scraping past Isreal and Serbia on penalties, to qualify for a tournament in which they were one of the home nations, meaning two of their group games including this one to be played in front of some fans at Hampden Park, fairy tale stuff. Meanwhile, the Czech Republic automatically qualified for these championships as runner up in their group behind England and were hoping for a positive start as they look to match their Euro 1996 heroics where they reached the final.
The big loss pre-game for the Tartan Army was the loss of Arsenal’s Kieran Tierney. Steve Clarke has been working to find a formation that fits in both Andrew Robertson and Kieran Tierney after finding themselves in a rare position where their two best players are arguably left-backs. Other than that David Marshall got the nod in goal and Lyndon Dykes led the line on his own with Ryan Christie in support in their 3-5-2 set-up. As for the Czech Republic, it was the expected team, spearheaded by Bayer Leverkusen’s Patrik Schick and including West Ham duo Tomas Soucek and Vladimir Coufal.
Scotland started stronger, high tempo, a lot of play going down left with Roberston. Scotland were in a very solid defensive structure with every man in their own half forcing the Czech defenders to play around the back and then resort to a couple of aimless crosses, light work for the Scotland centre backs. Quite a cagey opening twenty minutes as had been the theme this tournament with not many clear cut openings for either side.
The first clear cut chance fell the Czech’s way after a pullback fell to Schick and was smartly saved by Marshall. As the Czech’s started to take a foothold in the game, Scotland tried to retain possession in a bid to weather the storm. Scotland’s first real chance came when Robertson was released on the left, fizzed in a low left and Dykes managed to escape his marker across the near post but missed the target. A quick throw-in caught Czech off guard and Robertson found himself in space on the left after being played in by Christie but blazed over.
With five minutes to go onto halftime slightly against the run of play, Czech Republic took the lead after Patrik Schick leapt highest to turn in a header after a cross from West Ham’s Vladamir Coufal. Just as halftime approached Scotland will maybe feel they should have had a penalty as they went in behind at the break.
Steve Clarke’s first response at the start of the second half was to bring on Che Adams to partner Lyndon Dykes, replacing Ryan Christie. However, The Czech’s started the second half the stronger and could have found themselves two up within the opening minute of the second half if it weren’t for a great save from David Marshall, however then a speculative shot from Jack Hendry hitting the bar and then a miscommunication at the back nearly causing an own goal offered encouragement for the Scots at the start of the second half as they looked to get back in the game. However, disaster struck for Scotland when after Jack Hendry stepped out of position and lost the ball leaving Patrik Schick open on the left channel he attempted an audacious chip, catching out everyone including David Marshall who was well off his line to double the Czech’s advantage.
A cross in the box kindly fell for Lyndon Dykes and despite keeping the ball low and on target Czech stopper Tomas Vaclik managed to pull off an incredible save despite originally moving the wrong way to keep Scotland at bay. As Scotland, desperately tried to find a way back in the game, the Czechs’s refused to sit off and were keen on picking off Scotland and looked the more likely to get a third. A mazy run from substitute James Forrest beating a couple of defenders before having a shot blocked was as close as Scotland got as the minutes ticked on.
Scotland continued to pile on the pressure and despite often getting in good positions a mixture of no end product from Scotland and some impressive last-ditch blocks from the Czech Republic kept the score at 2-0. A disappointing day for Scotland, which leaves them really up against it, however, if you thought the Tartan Army will be up for their game against England before today, you can be certain they will be up for it now.
David Marshall- Made a good save early on, wasn’t so much he could have done about the goal. Great save in the first half to keep Scotland in the game in the opening minutes of the second half and again was not much he could have done about potentially the goal of the tournament. A few more, impressive saves to keep the score respectable as Scotland left space at the back searching for a goal. 6
Grant Hanley- Looked composed on the ball and looked to be commanding the defence well being at the heart of it, will probably be disappointed letting Schick get ahead of him for the goal. 5
Liam Cooper- good distribution attempting that long ball on a few occasions however he also may feel he could have done better for first goal as Schick got in between him and Hanley. 5
Jack Hendry- Didn’t put a foot wrong in the first half and was a part of Scotland’s compact defensive shape. Manic opening ten minutes of the second half for him first hitting the bar from distance, then being caught on the ball leaving the defence open for the wonder goal. Found himself a victim of Scotland’s attacking substitutions and was taken off. 4
Stephen Odonnel- Seemed nervy at the start with an early foul and poor control started to get a foothold in the game and pushing high up the pitch as midfielders look to spread play out wide, however more often than not it was to the left as opposed to the right. Subbed as the Scots tried to find a way back in the game. 5
Stuart Armstrong- Didn’t get a foothold on the game, and as one of their main creative outlets that will be a source of disappointment for the Saints midfielder. Had one shot on the hour mark that was deflected over but not his best day. This was compounded when taken off after 70 minutes with Scotland chasing a goal. 5
John Mcginn– Got himself in good positions and found himself involved in the action in both sides of the pitch, good energy from the Villa man. 7
Scott Mctominay- continuously picking up loose balls as the only sitting midfielder for Scotland, nice surging run into the box, maybe could have had a penalty. Dropped back into the defence as Scotland tried to get more creative players on to haul themselves back in the game. 6
Andrew Robertson- Playing like a natural captain looking to take this game by the scruff of the neck, his well-renowned crossing ability was demonstrated on several occasions and you just get the feeling that anything successful that the Scots do in this tournament, the Liverpool man will be at the heart of. 8
Ryan Christie- Had one nice moment where his dazzling dribbling got him in a great position before being tackled at the last minute, played a nice ball to Robertson but didn’t play as well as he can and was subbed at halftime for Che Adams. 5
Lyndon Dykes- Good movement and was getting into channels, will perhaps be disappointed he didn’t put Scotland in front after a great cross from Robertson. Good hold up and knockdowns for runners but will be disappointed not to find himself on the scoresheet after a great chance to make in 2-1 on the hour mark. Eventually subbed off as the Scots got desperate, not his best day. 5
Che Adams- Caused perhaps a few more problems than Dykes and linked up well with Nisbet after his introduction, willing runner and perhaps will be the man to partner Dykes at Wembley. 6
Ryan Fraser- Didn’t get involved as much as he should have when subbed on to provide more attacking impetus, had a shot where probably would have been better off passing, not the best cameo from the Newcastle man. 4
Callum McGregor- Brought on as an extra man in midfield as McTominay dropped back into the defence, did what he was brought on to do but nothing impressive of note. 5
James Forrest- Just what Scotland needed, positive and direct running in a game where they lacked end product, only criticism was him being too selfless, found himself in a great shooting position but decided to pass, to no avail. 7
Kevin Nisbet- Linked up well up top with Che Adams, had a late header blocked from a Robertson cross, not much else for the Hibernian man, however an impressive rise from him, he was in the third tier of Scottish football two seasons ago. 6
Notable Czech Performances
Tomas Vaclik- A couple of impressive saves, most notably saving Lyndon Dykes volley from close range, despite diving the other way just as Scotland were trying to get back in the game, proved to be vital save and his performances will be key if the Czech are to have a successful tournament. 8
Vladamir Coufal- Anyone who watches premier league football will be familiar with West ham right back Vladamir Coufal and whilst he may have struggled to handle Robertson at times, his attacking display was impressive with a pinpoint cross for the opening goal and being a constant menace down that right-hand side. 8
Led the line impeccably, constantly causing problems for the Scotland defence with his constant movement and impressive hold-up play, to top it off two very different types of excellent goals, the first he showed great movement and aerial ability to get in between the Scottish defenders to score a brilliant header and the second an incredible long shot catching out David Marshall to seal the game for the Czech Republic. Certainly, in my opinion, one of the most impressive performances to date so far in this tournament and wouldn’t be surprised to see him earn a big move if he can give England and Croatia defence as much havoc as he gave this Scotland one. 9
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