Saturday, 9 October 2010

Tactic’s Shmatic’s…

European Championships, Qualifying Group I, Synot Tip Arena, Prague; Czech Republic 1, Scotland 0

Scotland's Jamie Mackie competes for a header with Marek Suchy.
Not one of Scotland’s finest nights, but Craig Levin’s tactic’s seem to have detracted from how badly Scotland kept possession.  Worryingly this is the second international on the trot where Scotland’s poor technique on the ball has translated into a poor performance.  That the world’s best exponents of possession football are Scotland’s next opponents should be a worry to Levein, on current form, Scotland will struggle to hold on to anymore than 5 minutes possession out of the 90. 
Touted in various quarters as 4-2-2-2 or 4-1-5 or ever 4-6-0, it eventually panned out as 4-2-4 when Scotland were going forward.  There was however on glaring fault with the system, the quality of passing from the back four was utterly dire.  As a result, in the first half McManus & Weir kept on hoofing the ball towards the space vacated by the lack of a centre forward.  Which resulted in possession being given back to the Czech Republic.
It was a tactic which seemed to work well in the first half, as the Czech Republic seemed to be becoming more and more frustrated.  The second half however saw the Czech Republic step up a gear.  Kadlec had a chance saved by McGregor, who also made a great save from a Polak header.  Scotland were looking like a team needing a change personnel as the tactics that had worked to some effect now stopped working, Miller prehaps should have been on for the last 25 minutes of the game (or at least we should have gone to 4-2-3-1 with Mackie in front of Morrison, Naismith and Dorrens with Caldwell & Fletcher acting as midfield anchors).
The goal was a criminal goal to concede.  From a corner, a Rosicky header was flicked on by the former Hearts forward Roman Bednar to the defender Hubnik, who had found some space to head home from metres.  Scotland had deployed a zonal marking system, but still should not have afforded Hubnik the time to get into position to head home.
The game then opened up, with Scotland switching to a straightforward 4-4-2, but crucially still could not put together enough fluid passing moves to trouble the Czech Republic.  The Czech’s on the other hand were able to break at speed and pick out space, looking way more comfortable on the ball than their Scottish opponents.  In the end, with superior technique and a desire to win, the Czech’s deserved their win.
While the result will not be a disaster (the Czech Republic are now on 3 points, one behind Lithuania and Oh ourselves – Spain lead on maximum points), it will be the manner of the defeat, especially the controversy surrounding the formation and the “dropping” of Kenny Miller (BTW, Mackie did ok, even if he was played out of position.  He deserves an opportunity as the forward in Scotland’s regulation 4-5-1 formation) which will ensure a tough couple of days for Craig Levein.  Of more concern should be the lack of basic football technique from some of the Scotland players, who were wasteful in possession, and awful in retaining it.  Perhaps some video’s of Spain’s run in South Africa is in order for the Scotland team to look at and to learn from…  before the real thing visits Hampden on Tuesday.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Repeating Past Glories

So, just how good are the Czech Republic, Scotland’s next opponents in Euro 2012 qualifying?  The easy answer is that we will find out on Friday.  But that won’t do for a preview piece.

The Czech Republic have been, since their split from Slovakia 20 odd years ago, one of those sides that you would file firmly as “Dark Horses”.  In Euro 96, they got to the final after escaping from that tournament’s version of “The Group of Death” – losing to Germany before beating Italy and drawing with Russia.  After condemning Scotland to a Playoff against England, they once again lined up in another group of death in Euro 2000 – this time failing to make it out of a group containing France, The Netherlands and Denmark.  The hat trick of “Group of Death” appearances came in 2004 when they topped a group containing Germany, The Netherland’s and Latvia.  The Czech Republic then slipped into favourites camp, and wilted against Greece.

Since Euro 2004 though the Czech Republic have gone backwards.  The qualified for their first World Cup in 2006, but failed to get out of a group containing Italy & Ghana.  They also got to Euro 2008, but again failed to get out of their group.  Despite beating the hosts Switzerland in their opening game, they fell to defeats against Portugal & Turkey.  In qualifying for the last World Cup, they finished 4 points behind Slovenia and six behind their neighbours Slovakia as both countries went to the World Cup.  On the face of it, the Czech Republic is in transition, and not really of the same vintage as 1996, 2004 or even 2000.  That impression is not hindered by the start the Czech’s have made to this group, losing at home to Lithuania.

Yet, there looks as if there is still the quality there to see off Scotland.  Milan Baros will miss the game through injury, while the injured Roman Bednar has been included in the squad.  Petr Cech and Thomas Rosicky, familiar names to followers of the EPL, should start against Scotland.  Jaroslav Plasil of Bordeaux has also been included in the squad.  Vaclav Kadlec of Sparta Prague has also been included in the squad, if he makes his debut either against Scotland or Liechtenstein (on Tuesday) he will become the second youngest player to be capped for the Czech Republic.

Scotland will be missing Lee McCulloch for the tie against the Czechs through suspension, while Hutton, McGreggor, Whittaker are the obligatory walking wounded, with injury already rulling out Broadfoot, Scott Brown, McFadden & Hartley from the last squad – Brown though may make the Spain tie on Tuesday.  Gary Caldwell is recovering from hip surgery, so may not be match fit yet.  While there are rumours that Kenny Miller may be left out of the starting 11.


While the Czech Republic are unbeaten in European Championship matches against Scotland (2-1 at Parkhead and 3-2 in Prague in March & June 1999 respectively), Scotland have won their last meeting against the old Czechoslovakia.  Though they have not won in Prague since 1937, Scotland have a good chance of a win.  However such is the tight nature of this group (Spain apart), an away draw should also be seen as a good point won, i think that it will finish 1-1 tomorrow.