Czech Republic 1-2 Scotland: Ryan Christie penalty seals victory
Scotland flirted with the disaster many had predicted for them before springing a surprise and earning an admittedly fraught victory. They lived dangerously against a side who played like they knew they had nothing to lose.
It was a game they said Steve Clarke could simply not win. And in a way he didn’t. He will know Scotland were again unimpressive. He will know next month’s Euro 2020 semi-final play-off v Israel seems an even more daunting proposition than it did a few days ago.
But he has every right to present four points earned from two opening Nations League fixtures as more than satisfactory, whatever the circumstances. Scotland are the perhaps unlikely leaders of Group B2.
This was a fixture almost designed to inflict maximum embarrassment on Scotland. For a spell, it seemed set to pan out this way. Jakub Pesec took just 11 minutes on his debut to score a maiden goal for his country. Stanislav Tecl, who turned 30 last week, created it. He was one of only two players in the opposition team with previous experience of football at full international level.
Roman Hubrik looked every one of his 36 years as he hirpled out of international retirement in a bid to augment his Scottish nemesis credentials. The defender, who last played for his country four years ago, scored the winner against Craig Levein’s striker-less visitors in 2010. This helped condemn a Scottish team to public opprobrium at home.
Such a fate does not await Clarke’s team. After all, they did all they could do. They beat the team in front of them thanks to Lyndon Dykes’ first goal for his county, which levelled the scores after 27 minutes, and Ryan Christie’s penalty six minutes into the second-half. The hosts twice struck the post in the second-half.
Clarke is nothing if not stubborn. Having been irked by those who queried why he had decided to road-test a new defensive formation against Israel on Friday, he risked further irritating these naysayers by dropping Kieran Tierney and yet retaining the system that was seemingly designed to accommodate him. Critics of this set-up were presented with more ammunition when Scotland were cut open early on.
Tecl’s angled pass left Scott McTominay flat-footed and caught right wing-back Liam Palmer too far up-field. Pesek took full advantage as he ran in behind and rammed the ball beyond David Marshall and into the corner of the net after bringing the ball under control with his first touch. It was almost a relief to get something most feared would happen out of the way so early.
Rarely have Scotland been presented with more optimal circumstances in which to gain a rare away win over a higher-ranked country. The stadium was not a seething mass of partisan home fans. Indeed, there were no fans present full stop.
It was a wonder to discover the Czech Republic team had managed to get shirts, shorts and socks to fit. A team including nine debutants set out with the wild abandon of a side thrown together at 48 hours’ notice. Giddy to have been given this surprise chance, they were shooting from everywhere.
That in itself was not problematic for Scotland. Most attempts flew high and wide. One, from Tecl, was tipped wide by Marshall. Another long-range effort, from Adam Janos, brought out a superb save down low to his left from the Scotland goalkeeper, who managed to deflect the powerful shot wide shortly before half-time.
Scotland had already drawn level with Palmer, one of Scotland’s successes in the opening half aside from being slow to react at the opening goal, was instrumental in its creation. Palmer took the ball in with ease after a switch in play before setting himself up to launch an inviting cross into the six-yard-box that stirred Dykes’ striking instincts. The QPR player moved smartly into position and clipped the ball high into the net with 27 minutes played.
Relief should have flooded through the Scottish ranks. They should have been the ones to take the game to the hosts. But Czech Republic continued to look more dangerous in the time left before the interval and after it. Scotland did secure the opportunity to grant them some comfort. Andy Robertson was clipped by Tomas Malinsky on the edge of the box and the referee pointed to the spot. Christie converted his second penalty in four days, having struck the opener against Israel on Friday. He drove the ball low and hard into the bottom right corner of the net just in case auxiliary Czech Republic keeper Ales Mandous had been swotting up on his effort v Israel, when he opted for the top left corner.
This goal should have served to ease Scottish anxiety. Instead, it led to a spell when the visitors lost control again. Havlik hit the outside of Marshall’s right post from a free kick. A tired-looking Tecl should have steered in a shot rather than send an effort weakly past the post after the Scottish goalkeeper had saved well from Janos.
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