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Strikerless Scotland's negative approach is punished by Czechs

Euro 2012 Qual Group I
Czech Republic 1

* Hubnik 70

Scotland 0

* Ewan Murray at Synot Tip Arena
* The Guardian, Saturday 9 October 2010
* Article history

Jamie Mackie The Scotland debutant Jamie Mackie competes for a header with Czech Republic defender Marek Suchy. Photograph: Katerina Sulova/Czech News Agency/Press Association Images

In the cold light of day this represented depressing stuff for any remaining lovers of Scottish football. The nation has been in danger of dropping into the game's wilderness for long enough but there was time to break new ground in Prague. Craig Levein entered this game seeking vindication; he will spend the build-up to Spain's visit to Hampden Park on Tuesday explaining how a 4-2-4-0 formation could have gleaned tangible reward from the Czech Republic.

The frustrating part for the Scots is that the Czechs, while occasionally slick in attack, appeared glaringly vulnerable in defence. That frailty was never likely to be punished, however, by a team deploying not a single striker.

"It is the easiest thing in the world to argue that any other system would have given us another result," said Levein, who has never enjoyed dealing in the hypothetical. "It was never our plan to come here and open the game up. It is difficult to say that the system worked when we lost the game but I am happy with the players."

Indeed he may be, and it may be merely an indictment on the wider Scottish picture, but the thousands of Tartan Army members who descended on Prague are entitled to feel short-changed. With no forwards on show, it was simply impossible that Scotland could retain the ball in the final third.

It was Kenny Miller to whom Levein ultimately turned, with 14 minutes to play, when the qualifying tie was slipping away on account of Roman Hubnik's goal. The manager's decision to drop the striker from his team for the biggest match of his brief tenure caused ructions. Levein's choice of replacement, Jamie Mackie, had never even been in a Scotland squad before this week. The Queens Park Rangers man duly departed as Miller entered the fray, winning his 50th cap in rather inauspicious circumstances. Levein's decision to jettison Miller was even more notable given the striker's prolific early-season form for Rangers.

"The result is not disastrous," said Levein. Nonetheless key impetus has been handed to the Czech Republic in the race to win second place behind Spain in Group I.

Scotland have long since mastered the art of travelling in hope rather than expectation. They have failed to win an international match away from home in two calendar years. That victory on Icelandic soil in 2008 actually saw the last Scottish goal away from Glasgow; seven matches since have now produced an aggregate score of 16-0 against.

There was never any likelihood that the entertainment on offer from this game would match that which had overshadowed Scotland's preparations. Levein had fumed that a tabloid newspaper had printed details of his starting XI on Wednesday. A playground war duly erupted between Levein and the press and also among certain tabloids.

The opening stages had justified Levein's style and Scotland were even in danger of supplying a threat of their own. Mackie was unfortunate to mis-control, six yards from the Czech goal, before the home defender Marek Suchy almost shanked a teasing Alan Hutton cross beyond his own goalkeeper. A failure to hand more possession to Hutton later in proceedings was merely one Scottish failing.

All the same, it took fine reactions from Allan McGregor to keep Scotland level at the interval. The Rangers goalkeeper, in whom Levein has bestowed considerable faith, blocked a close-range Tomas Necid shot from Michal Kadlec's cut-back a mere 90 seconds before the end of the first-half.

McGregor produced a more acrobatic intervention 20 minutes into the second period as he tipped a Jan Polak header wide. By that time it was clear the hosts – who surprisingly lost to Lithuania last month – knew what damage would follow them haemorrhaging further points in this qualification campaign.

They did not have long to wait for salvation. Disastrously, given the emphasis placed on solid defending, Scotland gave the Czechs two free headers from a Tomas Rosicky corner. Roman Bednar, introduced as a substitute just minutes earlier, flicked on before Hubnik nodded home. Though Levein's own replacement, Miller, soon stepped in, not even the shock of seeing a striker could prompt a Czech submission.

Taken from the Guardian/Observer

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