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The Euro dream turns into a nightmare: Scotland 0 Czech Republic 2



 We waited twenty-three years for this, and what did we get? An endless barrage of mediocre nausea-related puns regarding the name of the Czech goalscorer.

What we didn't get was the epic, all-action, never-say-die, no-one-lives-forever performance from the home side that we were looking for and, frankly, expecting. Heck, no-one even got booked.

Don't forget that Scotland were the home side here. Opportunities to play at a major tournament are like hen's teeth for us; to do it on our own turf is a chance that had to be grasped with both hands, not least against our only group opponent that didn't reach a 2018 World Cup Semi-Final. If this had been a 2-0 defeat at home to the Czech Republic in qualifying, in this manner, the postmortem would have been pretty grim. There should be little sympathy or patience just because "at least we qualified".

Okay, it came down to fine margins and sure, Scotland were grossly short-changed on this front. We could probably afford to lose Kieran Tierney less than any other player in the squad. The Czech goalkeeper had a fine match. Jack Hendry hit the bar when the score was 1-0. One simply cannot allow for an extraordinary moment like Patrik Schick's second goal and perhaps it is unreasonable to expect such a strike to be anything other than a knockout blow.

But on a day that demanded a carpe diem spirit, Steve Clarke set Scotland up in such a way that this match was only ever going to come down to fine margins. The starting lineup looked quite adventurous with Stuart Armstrong, Ryan Christie and John McGinn all there to ostensibly provide support to Lyndon Dykes but the reality was anything but. Somehow we managed to lack an attacking threat because we played too many attack-minded players.

With Tierney injured and Scott McTominay back in midfield none of the Scottish back three were either comfortable enough in possession or confident enough to step out with the ball. Carpe diem? We couldn't even manage carpe pila. With no Ryan Jack, Kenny McLean, Callum McGregor or Billy Gilmour on the pitch and McTominay closed down whenever he came deep, the only out ball was a long punt forward.

This worked marginally better when Dykes was joined by Che Adams in the second half, but even then the play was depressingly archaic: either hit it at Dykes and hope he can flick it on, or get it wide and ping it in the box. That's 'get it wide left', obviously, because for the vast majority of the match only Andy Robertson looked capable of making anything happen...and the Czechs were well aware of this, which is why they offered us the chance to pass to Stephen O'Donnell as much as possible.

No-one can doubt the Motherwell defender's effort, his contribution to team camaraderie and his impeccable home baking but at this level he is a Standard Grade maths student being asked to give a calculus lecture at St. Andrews. In the second minute he took a pass on the right touchline, looked up and let the ball run under his foot with no-one near him. He ruined one promising attack by inexplicably getting in Christie's way after the Celtic player had managed to beat two defenders. His crosses never beat the first man, he gave away possession time and again and ultimately he was the one who was so, so slow to get out and close down the two-on-one the Czechs created to cross for the opener.

That said, Grant Hanley has one job. ONE JOB. TO WIN HEADERS.

Perhaps the most depressing aspect was how little influence John McGinn had on the match. Most of Scotland's finest play under Clarke has involved the talismanic midfielder doing damage in the final third. Here, whilst he seemed to be playing ahead of Armstrong, he was neutered. It says it all that his sole highlight moment, a 360 degree spin out of trouble that left an opponent dazed and confused on the turf, took place twenty-five yards from his own goal...and that when he then looked for a teammate to pass to, there were none.

As a close friend texted after the final whistle, "most disappointing of all, Clarke was crap". Scotland's cerebral, savvy, streetwise coach was supposed to be the great equalizer that compensated for the lack of quality in some areas of the team. When we look back on this game for years to come, people will think of that fifty-yard strike, but many will not forget that Scotland's team selection hamstrung them from the start.

So, what does Clarke do now? Unfortunately, the only answer I can think of is 'pray'. All the optimism has been sucked out of the Tartan Army now and replaced by an overwhelming feeling of dread in the pits of our stomachs; that's not Schickness at the Czech result, it's the very real fear that if we play like  that at Wembley on Friday we are going to be humiliated.

Lawrie Spence has whinged about Scottish football on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly.

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