Last night in Prague Ivan Bebek put the whistle to his lips and signalled not just the end of Scotland’s match against the Czech Republic but with it could end any chance of the Tartan Army reaching the European Championships in 2012, a quick glance at the table and they look in not too bad a situation, and there are ways to spin it to make it sound much better than it is. If we fast forward to the last week of the qualifying games, taking for granted that Spain will win every game, Liechtenstein lose every game, by some kind of miracle Scotland then record victories against the Czech Republic and Lithuania at home, the last week would see Craig Levein’s men travel to Spain and Lithuania play host to the Czech Republic.
If everything went according to play and it usually doesn’t for Scotland, Spain would sit top of Group I on 21 points, Scotland 2nd on 13, with Lithuania and the Czech Republic level on 10 points each, Everyone would expect Scotland to suffer a defeat in Spain and that would leave the winner in Kaunas level on points with Scotland, so if you live in the optimistic world there is still plenty to play for and it will also probably mean you haven’t watched any of Scotland’s earlier games, the problem with this scenario is it requires Scotland to win 3 matches, and right now that scenario is as far fetched as they come.
The point away from home against Lithuania on paper doesn’t look like the worst result after Lithuania’s victory in Olomouc but anyone that watched the game will know it should have been three points to start the campaign off, Scotland have played against much better Lithuania sides and come away with more than a point, this Scotland team is just not up to the job, the midfield worked very hard the whole game but was devoid of any patience on the ball or the ability to break down a stubborn defence, no creative spark on the field, Kenny Miller isolated upfront, at times there was good width created by the full backs inevitably there was no one in the box able to convert or the quality of cross was just not there, the 0-0 score line did not describe a game full of excellent saves and great tackles it described two sides unable to create any clear cut chances.
Liechtenstein at home is a game most teams in Europe maybe apart from San Marino would expect to win, the archive results in the end will show a 2-1 victory to Scotland, the score line in no way reflects the match and how abysmal the team played that night, with McFadden returning and Kris Boyd added to the line-up the expectant 37,000 that turned up at Hampden Park wanted goals, a good three or four nil win to kick start the campaign and lift the spirits of a nation. This was not to be Boyd went missing, McFadden did not seem match sharp and the defence allow Liechtenstein to look like a decent team. Level at half time it surely couldn’t get any worse, it could. Mario Frick once of Siena in Serie A was allowed time and space to collect the ball outside the Scotland penalty area, and with a quick turn and flick of the right boot he sent the tiny amount of away fans in the crowd into jubilant celebration, not since October 2007 had Liechtenstein won a match Iceland the unlucky opponents that day surely Scotland couldn’t join that elite club.
It was not to be, the country with a smaller population than the attendance that night in Glasgow couldn’t hold on, Kenny Miller’s strike on 62 minutes followed by the 95th minute winning header by Stephen McManus meant Scotland’s blushes were spared and the hopes of a nation to qualify for a major tournament again were still alive, could this be the kick up the backside the team needed and a good performance and result again the Czech Republic in Prague would go a long way in making the country believe again.
Scotland wouldn’t be Scotland without shooting itself in the foot however, the rumours began days before the Czech Republic match that Levein was thinking of leaving out the SPL’s top goal scorer Kenny Miller for uncapped QPR forward Jamie Mackie, Mackie’s 8 goals this season is an impressive tally playing for a very exciting QPR side that lead the English Championship we will be full of confidence, to give him his Scotland debut in Prague in place of the inform Miller was indeed a idea straight out of left field. Reports continued to flood out of the Scotland camp, Mackie would not be the loan front man in Prague…there wouldn’t be one.
Confusion spread throughout the country the 4-6-0 is a brand new idea for the Scottish people, although used around the World and Europe throughout the last few years, to try and adapt a team to this new style the week before a massive qualification game was a bold idea from Levein, if successful he would be a genius, if it went wrong the daggers would be at his back and questions about his managerial ability would be raised.
A few years ago a 1-0 defeat to the Czech Republic would not seem that bad a result, however the days of Nedved, Koller, Galasek and Co. are long gone, Tomas Rosicky and Peter Cech remain in the side but as the 1-0 defeat to Lithuania showed they are a shadow of their former self, missed out on the 2010 World Cup and fighting with Scotland and Lithuania for a play-off place for 2012 is not where we are used to seeing the Czech side doing business. For the majority of the match Scotland’s striker less system worked, all eleven players working hard for the team, and when Scotland tried to get forward the same faults appeared as always, no patience on the ball a lack of creativity, at times there was an outlet pass then other times there was nothing, away from home I always feel you need someone who can hold the ball up for you and let the rest of the team advance forward, this is not a call for Kenny Miller to have started either as at times this is not a strong point of his game, he does however give an option down the channel and that can be very useful to get you out of a defensive situation.
The home side dominated the possession and controlled the game the breakthrough finally came in 69th minute Rosicky’s corner was flicked on by Bednar and Roman Hubnik was there to apply the crucial finish, people can blame the system till their blue in the face but you can lose a goal from a set piece regardless of how many strikers you have on the field, there are good and bad points to how Levein put out his team, at the end of day though Scotland have left Prague with no points and needing to win three games to finish 2nd in the Group.
It would be very surprising to see Levein try this system again, Scotland just nation does not have the players available to make this work. Levein has said this was a system to be used solely against the Czech Republic, so it would look most likely to see the 4-5-1 rolled out on Tuesday for the Spanish, a match were no one really holds out any hope of a Scotland point never mind a victory.
Defeat would still leave Scotland with a slim chance of qualifying, the home ties against Lithuania and the Czech Republic would be must wins, they can’t afford no more slip ups and judging by the previous performances confidence is not high.
Who knows Scotland being the unpredictable nation that it is, it might not be too crazy to have a little punt on a win this Tuesday at Hampden, it’s only the World and European Champions.