Schick’s halfway-line hit helps Czech Republic spoil Scotland’s party

There was always a danger that Scotland’s great expectations would precede crushing disappointment. It was kind of ever thus. At the venue where a Scotland team were cheered towards failure in Argentina in 1978, pre-match aspirations of progress from Group D were audibly reduced to fear that Steve Clarke’s team may fail to claim so much as a point. What a fickle business.

This Scottish return to major tournament football, 8,393 days after Craig Brown’s team were trounced by Morocco in St Etienne, was afforded quite the build-up. There was a marquee moment at Hampden Park, one which will appear on highlight reels for years to come. Unfortunately for Scotland, it involved the Czech Republic’s outstanding Patrik Schick. Scotland were extras in what had been heralded for months on end as their own great show.

There appeared no real danger to Scotland – who were already a goal behind – when Jack Hendry saw a goal attempt from distance charged down. Schick had other ideas. As the ball broke to him on the halfway line, he lofted a shot over the despairing David Marshall. Schick’s goal was from precisely 49.7 yards – unsurprisingly a tournament record – in the kind of breeze that would make the world’s leading golfers adjust their target line. Schick ran towards the tiny contingent of Czech supporters, who had witnessed a moment of history.

No sooner had the ball hit the back of the net, three seconds after it departed Schick’s left boot, than the Scottish inquest started. Hendry was widely criticised for shooting. Marshall attracted blame for his starting position, some 35 yards from his goal. The reality is that Schick produced a moment of outrageous skill, the like of which is unlikely to be repeated in the remainder of Euro 2020. Scotland had been reminded of the brutality of this environment, 23 years after they last featured at international football’s top table. The image of Marshall leaping helplessly as Schick celebrated will inevitably feature in an already lengthy list of Scottish tournament calamities.

This was a strange Scotland performance in the sense that they actually created numerous chances. Andy Robertson should have sent them ahead in the first half but instead, when afforded time and space, wasted his moment. Strange, too, was the soft concession of the first goal; two centre-backs, Grant Hanley and Liam Cooper, were beaten to the ball in the air by Schick. The Czechs did not outplay their hosts, they were just more streetwise.

Nonetheless, there is already criticism wafting Clarke’s way. The Scotland manager was without Kieran Tierney, arguably his best player of recent times, but surprisingly opted to deploy Lyndon Dykes rather than Che Adams in attack. Bluntly, and it was demonstrated again here, Dykes’s chance conversation rate is nowhere near good enough for international football.

There will be pressure on Clarke to rip up his team for the trip to Wembley on Friday when the Scots will find themselves in the unenviable position of needing something, anything, by way of points. Clarke stands accused by his detractors of being overly loyal to the players who took Scotland to the European Championship. There is at least a degree of merit in that claim, even if Clarke is due slack on the basis of being the man to break his country’s barren tournament run.

Even confirmation of Tierney’s injury, a secret before the teams were announced, did not douse a tremendous Hampden atmosphere. Some 10,000 supporters made such an almighty pre-match racket that the official attendance was worthy of question. As men and women of all shapes, sizes and ages leapt about to Baccara, Scotland’s value to competitions such as these was fully evident.

Given the raucous backdrop, it was no surprise to see those in navy blue on the front foot. And yet, the first save of the game belonged to Marshall, 16 minutes in. John McGinn, who was to have an error‑strewn afternoon, appealed in vain for a foul when losing possession dangerously close to his own goal. Marshall had to act smartly to beat away Tomas Soucek’s effort. Scotland’s immediate response came via Robertson, whose cross from the left flank was prodded just wide by Dykes.

No wonder Robertson spent a first-half moment urging his teammates to keep calm. Scotland’s play was at breakneck speed. The Czechs, seasoned tournament campaigners, were far more methodical in their work.

Schick’s first goal, after he met a Tomas Kalas cross, was the result of the Scots failing to clear a corner. It is fair to say such slackness has not been a feature of Clarke’s tenure. With Adams introduced at half‑time, Scotland had hopes of a rousing second-half comeback – Hendry clipped the bar – before the moment which will prove the reference point to this game. Suffice to say, this was not in the Scottish script. “It’s clear we already have the goal of the tournament,” said Soucek. “There is no need to try and beat it.”

Marshall actually produced a flurry of late saves that could otherwise have led to Scottish embarrassment. There wasn’t anger in the stands at full time, simply a palpable sense of disappointment. Welcome to the new Scotland, which it transpires bears uncanny resemblances to teams of years gone by. Clarke is in the unenviable position of having two matches to buck the trend; few seem to fancy his chances.