How Kieran Tierney's minor niggle became a major issue for Steve Clarke as Scotland left clinging to Euro 2020 hopes

Ryan Christie rolled the ball back to Liam Cooper, who then launched it up field. With that, the spell was broken. A link to the heroes of France '98 had been re-established. A connection forged; a dream re-awakened.

Scotland's John McGinn is left dejected at full time after the Euro 2020 defeat to Czech Republic at Hampden Park (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)
Scotland's John McGinn is left dejected at full time after the Euro 2020 defeat to Czech Republic at Hampden Park (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

It would be wrong to say that this kick-off, sound tracked as it was by the return of a real live Hampden roar, was as good as it got for Scotland

However, there can be no escaping it: this was a sobering afternoon back in the major finals front line for the men's international team. Delight at simply being allowed to attend a game was not sufficient to quell a very audible volley of boos from fans at the final whistle.

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The joy at ending 23 years of major finals exile drained away in the time it took one of the new Euro 2020 ‘Uniforia’ balls to travel the distance of 54 yards before nestling in the back of David Marshall's net.

Czech Republic striker Patrik Schick rises above Scotland defender Grant Hanley to head home the first goal of the Group D opener at Hampden. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

Can we not just put this down to these balls being too light or something? Is that not what happens at major finals? It’s been a while, after all.

The assumption that this was the game most likely to yield three points for Scotland failed to account for one fairly significant factor: Czech Republic are no pushovers. They showed why they are above Scotland in the FIFA rankings.

As a Scot, it’s never a good sign to be conducting a search for “Wembley 1975” footage. There were certainly shades of Stewart Kennedy wrapped around a post in the way Marshall was left tangled in the back of the Hampden net after Patrik Schick’s second goal hit from just inside Scotland’s half.

The net hung there limply for the rest of the afternoon, a too-apt symbol for Scotland’s drooping fortunes. It was clinging on, like Scotland are just one game in.

Next stop Wembley. It doesn’t get any easier. In fact, it gets a hell of a lot harder very quickly.

The Scottish squad will now return to their base at Rockliffe Park in County Durham. A win against Croatia can still see Scotland progress – as of course could one against England – but it’s a mighty tall order on the evidence presented here.

This was a cold blast of harsh reality on a chilly, grey June afternoon which saw the floodlights turned on by 3pm. Scotland were already trailing by this point. Steve Clarke was forced into what many interpreted as an admission he had erred with his team selection when he replaced Ryan Christie with Che Adams at half-time.

The manager was compromised due to Kieran Tierney’s unavailability following a niggle picked up in training.

The apparently minor nature of the injury contrasted with the size of headache it represented. It seemed to leave Clarke slightly spooked.

He appeared to be compensating for Tierney’s absence all over the park. Alert to the fact the Scots would be denied the Arsenal defender's thrusting runs from left centre-back, Clarke opted to play two forward-minded midfielders in Stuart Armstrong and John McGinn while using Christie as a second striker next to Lyndon Dykes. It never looked truly balanced. It certainly didn't work.

It’s unusual these days to see a manager commit to the half-time substitution. Normally, they will wait until the 55th minute or indeed hour mark. But Clarke knew he had to act after Schick’s header just before half-time puts the Scots under severe pressure.

The start of the second half was chaotic. The hosts almost immediately fell 2-0 behind, nearly equalised when Jack Hendry’s curling effort from the edge of the box hit the bar, might have equalised again but for Tomas Vaclik’s super save from a deflection off one of his own defenders, and then did, finally, go 2-0 down, courtesy of Schick’s wonder strike after 52 minutes.

It was an outrageously brilliant piece of skill from the Bayer Leverkusen forward, but the Scots were the architects of their own downfall. Hendry, his blood up, tried another shot when he should have recognised the absence of any cover behind him if his effort ended up being blocked, which it was. Scotland were left horribly exposed.

Marshall, who had strayed slightly too far out, turned on his heels but what followed all seemed horribly inevitable.

Schick’s effort needed to be perfectly hit and it was. It was several minutes before the goal was actually announced across the Tannoy. It took a while to sink in. Scotland had been Kemar Roofe’d.

One of the main differences between the two sides was that the visitors were blessed with a world-class finisher in their ranks. Schick could and should have had a hat-trick. He hit his most straightforward chance straight at Marshall with ten minutes left.

The camera picking out Leigh Griffiths in the stand on the big screen after 25 minutes caused a minor stir among the home supporters in the 9,847 crowd.

It was already a case of pining for absent friends. Towards the end of the match, with Scotland running out of ideas, what we would have done for someone like Griffiths to bang in a couple of free-kicks from 25 yards.

That's not to say Scotland did not have chances. Dykes was denied twice by the 'keeper while Stuart Armstrong had a shot deflected onto the roof of the net. Substitute James Forrest saw a late effort blocked.

The superb Andy Robertson will feel he should have scored in the opening half when Scotland were on top. Vaclik tipped his drive over the bar. A goal then might have changed everything.

Scott McTominay showed what he is – a Rolls Royce of a player. Grant Hanley, meanwhile, demonstrated the pace many will not have known he possessed on a couple of occasions but was beaten in the air for Schick’s opener four minutes before half-time. McGinn battled but, surprisingly, was too often bullied by midfield opponents.

There’s a lot for Clarke to ponder but then, he might feel warranted to point out, he wasn’t the one getting carried away.

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