One of this mornings football reports described the formation deployed by Craig Levein during Scotland’s game against the Czech Republic last night as 4-2-4-0. At times it resembled more a 6-4-0 or even a 7-3-0. Nitpicking aside, what is clear is that Levein did not pick a striker, and short of distributing spades and directing his team to dig trenches in their own six-yard-box, Scotland could not have dug any deeper.
Credit should go to the players, who put on a committed but ultimately flawed display after a potentially distracting week of squabbles between their manager and the Scottish press. Indeed, Scotland may have taken the lead, when on one of the few attacking forays into Czech territory, Alan Hutton sent in a sizzling cross, which richochet off a defender, only to be kept out of the goal by the unknowing Petr Cech’s head.
For most of the game, the Scots sat back in their own final third which did nothing but invite constant waves of attack from a distinctly average looking Czech Republic side. The attacking instincts of several players, including the excellent Hutton, Jamie Mackie and James Morrison were being reigned in, as Scotlands supposed forward players became auxiliary defenders.
Playing in a more defensive manner than even Greece did during the World Cup is always going to gift even a poor attacking side chances sooner or later, and the Czechs might have scored earlier had goalkeeper Alan McGregor not been in such fine form. Scotland lasted until the 70th minute, when the inevitable goal came from a corner. It was finally time for Plan B, and Levein immediately sent on Chris Iwelumo and Kenny Miller up front. Too little too late is the overriding consensus.
The inform Miller should have began the game as a lone striker. Even if Scotland had played a well organized 4-5-1, they would still have at least had an outlet upfront when in possession and the chance to nick a goal. Many pundits including John Collins argue they should gone further and had a real go against a fading Czech team who failed to qualify for the World Cup and only recently failed to beat Lithuania.
Eleven years ago the Scots travelled to Prague, had a real go and were defeated 3-2 – a scenario that would surely be more acceptable to the Tartan Army than last nights showing – and it must be remembered that back then the Czechs were a far superior side.
If they continue to show such a lack ambition, they have no chance of qualifying for the European Championships in 2012. If this was their approach against an average Czech team, then their set up will almost certainly be the same when the World Champions come to Hampden on Tuesday night. Unfortunately for the Scots, Iniesta, Villa and co. are unlikely to be as forgiving as the Czech Republic.