KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: Czech Republic proved more ruthless than a disappointing Scotland as two goals either of halftime from Patrik Schick secured a 2-0 Group C victory in their Euro 2020 opener at Hampden Park.
The Bayer Leverkusen centre-forward’s second goal, curled on target from just inside the Scottish half, is an early and obvious contender for goal of the tournament. His attacking alacrity means Scotland need a vast improvement against England at Wembley on Friday to maintain hope of progress.
The Czechs, in one guise or another, have been consistent competitors among the European and world elite. Their history bears witness to runners-up slots at the World Cup in 1934 and 1962 as well as Euro winners, as Czechoslovakia, in 1976 courtesy of Antonin Panenka’s iconic penalty.
Their appearance in these finals had been clouded by the absence of centre back Ondrej Kudela, banned from European competition for 10 games for racially abusing Rangers’ Glen Kamara in the Europa League in March. Kudela had protested his innocence in vain so Czech coach Jaroslav Silhavy had to make other plans.
Scotland manager Steve Clarke, having brought his men through the playoff system, had his own issues. A notable absentee, albeit ‘only’ through injury, was the influential Arsenal defender Kieran Tierney.
Otherwise Clarke had his main men available for Scotland’s first appearance in the Euro finals since the expedition south of the border in 1996.
England’s opening group victory the previous day meant both Scots and Czechs needed to keep winning pace and that was reflected in the initial end-to-end flow of play.
Scotland’s qualifying hero David Marshall saved sharply from Schick in the 15th minute but from that point it was the hosts who took command.
Lyndon Dykes poked the ball wide after a dashing raid by captain Andy Robertson who then had a powerful drive tipped over the bar by keeper Tomas Vaclik.
The Czechs responded by forcing three corners in quick succession after which Schick rose about Jack Hanley and Liam Cooper to head Vladimir Coufal’s right-wing cross decisively down past Marshall. This was Schick’s 12th international goal.
Scotland brought Che Adams into attack for a second half which opened with a flurry of chances at both ends.
First Schick and then Vladimir Darida were brilliantly denied by Marshall then, at the other end, Hendry hit the bar and Vaclik leaped backwards to prevent an own goal from Tomas Kalas.
As the Scots charged upfield so the Czechs hit them on the break. Hendry saw an optimistic effort at a long-range shot fly back past to Schick who struck a magnificently opportunistic 40-yard lob over the helplessly backpedalling Marshall.
The Czechs now retreated into a defensive shell which encouraged renewed Scottish pressure. Stuart Armstrong had a shot deflected over the bar and Vaclik saved with an outstretched leg from Dykes while Schick, on the break, wasted a chance for a hat-trick as Marshall redeemed himself.
Patrik Schick, Czech Republic forward: “It’s always hard to play against us: we have a lot of hardworking players. Scotland were a tough opponent. But we were ready for their tactics. [For my goal] I saw the goalkeeper off his line – I checked in the first half where he was standing.”
Jaroslav Šilhavý, Czech Republic coach: “The decisive factor was that we survived the early pressure from Scotland. Then we got into the game and scored the opening goal. The second goal from Patrik calmed us down and finished the job.”
Andy Robertson, Scotland defender: “We were confident, excited, and it comes down to not taking our chances. You can’t say we’ve not created. We’ve had some really, really good chances that we should have done better with. If you do better on that, then it’s a different game. It’s a tough lesson for us that at the highest level, at the best tournaments, you have to take your chances. Czech Republic did that; we didn’t.”
Scotland: Marshall – O’Donnell (Forrest 79), Hendry (McGregor 67), Hanley, Cooper, Robertson – Armstrong (Fraser 67), McGinn, McTominay – Dykes (Nisbet 79), Christie (Adams 46).
Substitutes: Gordon, McLaughlin, Taylor, Turnbull, Patterson, Gilmour, McKenna.
Czech Republic: Vaclik – Coufal, Celustka, Kalas, Boril – Soucek, Kral (Holes 67) – Masopust (Vydra 72), Darida (Sevcik 87), Jankto (Hlozek 72) – Schick (Krmencik, 87).
Substitutes: Mandous, Kaderabek, Brabec, Barak, Zima, Meteju, Pekhart.
Referee: Siebert (Ger). Att: 12,000