Most of the Czechs may be rookies but favourites tag doesn’t suit Scotland
You can only beat what’s in front of you. This well-worn saying is bound to send a chill down the spine of every Tartan Army member.
Does the name Georgi Makaridze ring a bell? He was the 17-year-old goalkeeper drafted in for his debut when Scotland travelled to face Georgia 13 years ago as a European Championship qualifying group including France, Italy and Ukraine bubbled to a conclusion.
“Scotland will go for goals as Georgians gamble on a teenage goalkeeper,” was one newspaper headline on the morning of the game. Scotland did not need an avalanche of goals – just a 1-0 win would have all but sealed a berth at Euro 2008.
In the event, of course, Scotland could not even score one goal while somehow managing to concede twice. The shock defeat, one of the worst of recent times, left Alex McLeish’s side with far too much to do. They failed in a brave effort to beat Italy in the last game, going down 2-1 to a controversial late winner from Christian Panucci after Scotland were penalised for a foul they felt should have gone the other way.
It’s natural, then, that the news opponents Czech Republic have been forced to send out a rump side this evening in Olomouc is being met with mounting anxiety in Scotland. The Czechs had originally wanted to call the Nations League fixture off but were strongly advised by Uefa to field a team. Consequently, it will be largely made up of international novices.
Of the two players included who have already been capped before, one has already scored a winning goal for his country – against Scotland, of course.
Roman Hubnik struck the winner from short range on the notorious night in Prague when Craig Levein fielded a team without strikers ten years ago next month. He has not played for his country for four years. His reemergence is ominous.
Now 36, he currently plays for local side Sigma Olomouc, who are providing four players in total out of the 15 hastily assembled on Saturday.
Hubnik is someone Scotland are at least aware of. Clarke stressed that he and his staff will know as much as they need to know about the opponents. This information will be relayed to his players in plenty of time for kick-off.
“All you can try to do is find out bits about individual players,” said Clarke. “What their strengths are, what their qualities are, whether they are right-footed, whether they are left-footed, whether somebody in the squad has got a long throw, who might take the set plays, who might go forward for the set plays.
“I’m pretty sure the big lad who scored against Scotland in the 4-6-0 game, if you like, will go forward for set plays because he’s the size of a tower block.”
Twenty-five years ago, this situation might have presented a problem. But information is readily accessible now. There are few excuses for not having working knowledge of each player even at such short notice.
“We will know from the various sources we look at and all the internet platforms, there’s lots there,” Clarke explained. “It won’t just be a name in the squad. It will be a name and we will know what position he plays for his club.
“And we will know if he is right-footed or left-footed. We will know enough about the individuals. As to how they are coached and line up we will have to wait and see.”
For his own part, he said, things haven’t changed. Clarke claims Scotland will set up along the lines he was thinking in the direct aftermath of Friday’s 1-1 draw with Israel, when a new three-at-the-back system was road-tested and also heavily scrutinised. “We prepare just in the same way as we have before, same mindset, same mentality,” he said. “There will be a few changes just to freshen it up just because of the situation in terms of game time and training time.
“Although there has been a lot going on in the background, not a lot has changed in terms of preparation.”
Clarke revealed there will be at least three changes in his side. He did not go into detail although it seems likely he will revert to a back four on a night when he is less certain how Czech Republic will line up. One factor in his decision to use three centre-backs on Friday was knowing that this is the system Israel tend to deploy as well.
Clarke is not so sure about Czech Republic’s intentions prior to this evening. There are far fewer certainties full stop as Scotland visit a country battling a Covid-19 surge that has disrupted more than just their football team.
Something is guaranteed, however. Scotland fans might fear the worst but there will still be outrage if the worst happens and Scotland fail to beat what is, at best, a third-choice XI. While there are attendant concerns, there is a sense of cautious expectation. Circumstances have provided Scots with some encouragement to hope for three points from a fixture previously regarded as tricky in the extreme. It is dangerous territory.
“Every game is an opportunity when you play for your country,” stressed Clarke. “That is how you have to approach them.
“You have to go out there and you have to expect to win. I have never gone into a game of football in my life thinking I am going to lose and that is the mentality we have here.”
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