Preview – Czech Republic v Scotland
Let’s get Friday out of the way first. Friday didn’t go well. Scotland dropped points to Israel in our opening Nations League B match at Hampden Park, drawing 1-1.
This was a result and performance that will dent confidence ahead of Scotland’s Playoff Semi-Final v Israel, again at Hampden in October. On the other hand, this was a predictably disjointed performance from a group of players who, for many, are short of match sharpness. That shouldn't be an issue in October.
We’ll briefly look back on Friday’s game before re-capping the absolute chaos surrounding the game against Czech Republic.
Square Pegs, Round Holes and Shuffled Decks
The Tartan Army spent last week using the BBC’s excellent squad predictor tool. Of all the templates posted online, surely none matched Steve Clarke’s selection.
Clarke confounded expectations by sending Scotland out in a 5-4-1 formation, unlike anything he had used to date. Seeing Kieran Tierney lined up on the left-hand side of a back three wasn’t shocking, given he’s excelled there for Arsenal. That meant captain Andy Robertson played in a less familiar left wing back role.
The big surprises came on the right side of defence, where Scott McTominay played on the right side of central defence, behind James Forrest at wing back. McTominay had only played centre back a handful of times in his career, while Forrest is more suited to a traditional winger role for Celtic.
In the centre of the back three was Scott McKenna meaning Leeds United captain Liam Cooper, expected by many to start, remained on the bench.
Flat under the Friday Night Lights
In practice, the shape used by Scotland was solid-enough defensively, but struggled to create going forward. Heatmaps published after the game would show Scotland had very few touches of the ball inside Israel’s box as McGinn and Christie struggled to play-off debutant Lyndon Dykes.
Tierney did well to stake his claim at centre back for Scotland, impressing with his range of passing. A couple of cross-field balls really caught the eye.
Scotland played with two holding midfielders (Jack & McGregor), meaning they struggled to participate in attacks. While Robertson and Forrest tried to get forward to provide width, it meant that when Israel would counter they were often finding space in behind, particularly on Forrest’s side.
Scotland were fortunate to go into the break ahead, Ryan Christie scoring from the penalty spot after McGinn was bundled over in the box.
In the second half, Scotland struggled to assert control over the game, allowing Israel to build into the game until Zahavi smashed home an equaliser with 17 minutes to play. The goal followed a neat interchange from an Israel throw. Marshall might look back with regret as replays showed the shot was closer to the Derby keeper than first thought.
It was after the game ended that the real sparks flew, when the Czech FA (immediately after beating Slovakia 3-1) tweeted that their game with Scotland would not go ahead on Monday.
It quickly became clear that this was a unilateral move, given the confused reactions from the corridors of power at Hampden and Nyon.
It had been reported on Thursday that Midfielder Tomáš Souček and forward Patrik Schick had withdrawn from the squad and quarantined themselves after a staff member had tested positive for Covid-19.
One team in Olomuc?
After a night on Friday that was surely filled with frantic emails and calls between UEFA and the national associations, a further statement from the Czech FA was made on Saturday announcing that the game would go ahead in Olomuc, where Scotland would face a “Czech team will consist from new players and staff members.” (Czech Republic’s manager would not be in charge).
On Sunday night the Czech FA confirmed the group of players who would represent the Czech Republic against Scotland.
One player of note (and one of only 2 players previously capped) is Roman Hubnik, the 36-year-old CB for Sigma Olomuc. Hubnik has 29 caps and scored against Scotland in the infamous ‘4-6-0’ game in 2010. It should be noted he hasn’t represented his country since 2016.
Record v Czech Republic Played 7, Won 2, Drawn 1, Lost 4
Scotland are unbeaten against the Czechs since the infamous ‘4-6-0’ game in Prague, drawing the return leg 2-2 (courtesy of a debatable penalty call) and winning 1-0 in a 2016 away friendly under Gordon Strachan. Ikechi Anya scored that night.
Where to even start with this game? It’s impossible to predict how the Czech Republic will line up, let alone how Steve Clarke will send out his Scotland side.
It will be fascinating to see whether Steve Clarke persists with the 5 at the back system used on Friday or makes changes. Given the lack of match sharpness among the England based players it wouldn’t be surprising to see some different players come in.
Coming into this set of fixtures, most Scotland fans would have taken 4 points, with most expecting a win against Israel and a point away from home against a strong Czech Republic side.
Given the bizarre set of circumstances we find ourselves in, a win in Olomuc against a shadow side would give us the 4 expected points and keep Scotland on track in League B.
Against a side thrown together at the last minute comprising uncapped players and veterans, it’s easy to predict a walkover, but knowing Scotland, it’s just as easy to predict a long, frustrating night ahead.
Predicted Score – Czech 0-1 Scotland