Sunday, 4 September 2011

Czech-mate for Levein?

European Championships, Qualifying Group 1: Hampden; Scotland 2, Czech Republic 2

In yesterday’s must win game, Scotland contrived to throw away 1-0 and 2-1 advantages to draw 2-2 against opponents who themselves should have been 2 up inside the first 15 minutes.  However this has been obscured by two controversial penalty decisions, which we will come to later.

The Czechs started the brighter and should have been two up.  Firstly Jiracek crossed to Baros who put the ball over the bar.  Then Rajnoch headed over the bar from a Rosicky free kick.  Before long Scotland got back into the game, enjoying a bit of possession without actually doing anything useful with the possession.  Until half time, the pattern was Scotland holding on to possession but struggling to get at the Czech defence, punctuated by moments of Czech counter-punching where they were able to get at the Scotland back line with ease.  Going forward from one of these counter punches, Scotland got the first goal.  Fletcher drove forwards towards the box and then slipped the ball to Miller at an angle to goal.  His shot went under goalkeeper Lastuvka’s legs and into the corner.

Scotland had a golden opportunity to take a grip on the game, squeeze the Czech’s out of mid-field and then push for the second goal.  What happened is that the Czech’s then hung in there, put on a second striker and then began to dominate the game.  Baros sliced shot within second’s of the re-start was a shot across the bow’s, one that Scotland did not heed.  When the Czech’s equalised, Scotland had been hanging back and defending grimly for about 7 or 8 minutes.  Holding onto the ball, a cross came into the box and the ball was turned into goal via Plasil’s mid-riff.  Scotland now had 13 minutes to get a winner.

Within 4 minutes Scotland had a second.  Miller dispossessed one of the Czech’s who made his way into the box, and then returned the favour to the free Fletcher who side-footed home.  Again Scotland decided to defend what they had and surrendered the midfield, rather than keep hold of the midfield, and they got their “reward” by conceding a penalty with two minutes to go.  Rezek ran into the box and “fell” over some invisible part of Danny Wilson, some part only visible to Rezak and the referee Blom.  It was a dubious decision on first viewing, and only looked worse with each replay.  Kadlec scored the penalty.

Yet Scotland had one last chance to get an undeserved win, but blew it.  Berra picked up the ball, made his way into the box and fell over the Czech defender.  Yet, now referee Blom pulled out the book for simulation.

Truth is, Scotland were the masters of their own downfall.  They won hard fought advantages and were far too content to give away those advantages.  Had Scotland retained the miniscule control of mid-field that they had when they were leading, the Czechs would not have been able to camp themselves inside the Scotland third.  Scotland can still finish second and take the play-off place, but the Czech’s are now 6 points clear having played a game more than Scotland – their next game is at home to Spain.  While Scotland face Lithuania on Tuesday in what is now a must win game for both Scotland and Levein.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Back On The Road To Kiev

Scotland begin the second half of their Euro 2012 campaign with the visit of their closest challengers for the playoff spot, The Czech Republic.  The Czech Republic have only played here once in a competitive match, a Euro 2000 qualifier in March 1999 that saw them win 2-1 (below) at Parkhead.  Scotland currently sit in 4th place in the table, 5 points behind the Czech Republic but with a game in hand.  A win for Scotland really is a must.

Bearing in mind the controversy surrounding the away tie in Prague, 4-6 and all that.  Levein has announced a team that looks like the favoured 4-5-1 formation.  McGregor is in goal with a back four of Hutton, Caldwell, Berra and Bardsley.  However Levein has retained the three man central midfield tactic that has served Scotland so well since the Craig Brown years.  Making up the midfield trio are Fletcher, Adam & Brown.  I suspect that Morrison and Naismith will start on the flanks, however the inclusion of Naismith gives a flexibility, which Scotland could switch to a 4-4-1-1 (with Morrison playing in midfield and Naismith as the “second” striker behind Miller).

Whatever formation Levein uses today, Scotland will have to retain possession an awful lot better than they did lastOctober.  If the Czech’s are able to settle into a pattern and retain possession better than Scotland, then Scotland will be in trouble.  Remember, it was not the 4-6 formation that sunk Scotland, but the inability to retain possession.

If Scotland go with the 4-5-1 formation, it will give them the best chance to disrupt the Czech’s passing rhythm, retain possession and to create chances to win.  If they do that then Scotland can win to keep us going to Lithuania on Tuesday.