Czech Republic 2 Scotland 0
Scotland got everything right but the football. The anticipation, the renditions, the crowd, the emotion, the noise, it was all so memorable after 23 years of being outside and looking in as World Cups and European Championships have passed them by. And then it was all too sadly familiar, also.
After the long wait they suffered from the longest goal with an extraordinary and audacious strike from Patrik Schick as the forward scored from 49.7 yards - the furthest on record in a major finals – to add to a fine header as he led the Czech Republic to a deserved victory in Group D.
As good as those finishes were both resulted from naive mistakes from the over-anxious Scots who seemed affected rather than inspired. At the final whistle there was even a smattering of boos – what a far cry from the celebratory mood at kick off – with coach Steve Clarke standing still in disbelief with his hands behind his back.
Scotland now head to Wembley to face England knowing they cannot afford another defeat if they are to progress. The Czechs have a fine pedigree at the Euros and they showed it as they prepare to face Croatia.
Scotland kicked off 8,392 days after their last involvement in a major tournament ended, on the evening of June 23 1998 in St Etienne in a humiliating defeat to Morocco, an absence that spans four decades and a nation expected; a nation craved to be reconnected. Sadly Scotland could not deliver. Maybe their luck just ran out.
They had chances, plenty of chances but they do not have a striker anywhere near Schick’s quality. Instead they had Lyndon Dykes of Queens Park Rangers and he proved maddeningly wasteful. While schools had the discretion to let their pupils watch by deeming the fixture a “cultural event” it was the football team that was delivered a lesson as to what is required.
The last time Scotland played in a finals it was before the social media age, a year before Google was launched and the internet was only available on dial-up, but Schick was “trending” after his second intervention which will be a clear contender for goal of the tournament.
It came soon after Jack Hendry was unlucky as he struck the crossbar from the edge of the penalty area and maybe it was the adrenalin pumping through the defender that led to him shooting again only for the unwise, speculative effort to be charged down and rebound straight to Schick.
Scotland were caught out, goalkeeper David Marshall was way out of his area but still Schick’s left foot shot had remarkable loop, bend and dip as it flew into the net with a forlorn Marshall following the ball like a trapped fish.
To add insult to that injury Schick later said he had observed that Marshall strayed off his line. “I knew he stayed very high so when the ball came I just did a quick check – where is he standing, I saw him out so I tried and it was a nice goal,” he said. Very nice, indeed. There were also six seconds between Hendry’s effort and Schick’s goal.
Moments earlier Flower of Scotland rang out as the fans believed that, instead, the equalising goal was coming and with Tomas Kalas slicing a clearance under pressure that was only just clawed out by goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik. It seemed the Tartan Army would be rallying.
Instead it was goals either side of half-time that did for them. “It’s a one in a million shot unfortunately. We can’t lie, it knocked the stuffing out of us at that point,” admitted Scotland captain Andrew Robertson but the first goal was almost as painful.
It came as Scotland were slow to react after a corner was cleared by Grant Hanley with Vladimir Coufal underlapping down the right to receive the pass with no one tracking him. The West Ham full-back crossed and Schick rose superbly to beat Hanley and Liam Cooper and angle his header across Marshall.
And to think how the afternoon had started. There was a real Hampden roar and how glorious it was to hear it back with 9,847 sounding like 100,000 inside this stadium. It was followed by Scotland driving forward with the Czechs retreating. What a rush.
There was a torrent of attacking but it soon became apparent that it was a little too desperate unless Robertson was involved and he went closest when picked out by Ryan Christie with a smart switch of play. Suddenly clear on goal Roberston struck a rising shot which was tipped over. Maybe he should have scored. Before that the left-back had delivered with Dykes steering his dangerous cross past the post.
For all of Scotland’s intent there were nerves. They clearly missed Kieran Tierney who was not even fit enough for the bench and their three-man defence struggled to contain Schick. The tall, skilful 25-year-old striker has never quite fulfilled his potential and now plays for Bayer Leverkusen but served warning with a first-time shot that Marshall did well to repel.
There were frantic penalty appeals from Scotland, from John McGinn and Scott McTominay, but they were rightly waved away while once the second goal went in it felt over. And yet there were more chances - Stuart Armstrong’s shot was diverted onto the roof of the net, Vaclik smothered a Dykes effort from close-range and denied him with an outstretched boot, James Forrest danced through two challenges only for another shot to be blocked before the ball fell to McTominay. But there was an inevitability as he sent it over the bar.
The Czechs also had opportunities - Schick should have completed a hat-trick but shot weakly and Marshall denied substitute Michael Krmencik - and they were comfortable winners on what sadly turned into an uneasy, anticlimax of an occasion for Scotland.
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