Monday, June 14, 2021

Schick Sinks the Scots Slovakia Shine and Spain Pass Up a Chance

EURO 2020 DAY FOUR: Scotland 0:2 Czech Republic, Poland 1:2 Slovakia, Spain 0:0 Sweden

The bagpipes fell flat as Scotland's much-heralded return to a finals ended in 0-2 loss to the Czech Republic in Glasgow, where in an otherwise sweltering tournament, many a kilted fan wore a coat.

Czech fans and players celebrate Schick's 50 yard lob
Czech fans and players celebrate Schick's 50-yard lob © Ross Clegg

The Tartan Army are a great accompaniment to any tournament and even with a spartan Hampden they made their voices heard until the second Czech goal hit the onion bag with a 50-metre strike worthy of winning goal of the tournament.

Like Croatia at Wembley yesterday, the visitors withstood the expected early onslaught with solid organisation.

Patrik Schick
Patrik Schick

The Scots were not outplayed and dominated possession but were floored by two sucker punches from Patrik Schick, a classically tall and strong centre-forward. 

His first was a powerful header, his second a spectacular lob of the goalkeeper from almost the halfway line. He missed a chance to make it a hat-trick late in the game but will be eyeing the golden boot now.

The Czechs also defended passionately, throwing themselves in front of the ball at times to block shots, while nullifying the hosts' home advantage. 

Scotland can take heart in their tradition of fighting back from defeats in this competition. At Euro '92 and Euro '96 they had defeats but then confounded expectations to win their final group games. Their next task is England at Wembley however, which is tough.

Later in St Petersburg, Slovakia beat Poland, a side ranked 15 places above them by FIFA. 

Theirs was a hard-fought win with clinical strikes from Robert Mak and Milan Skriniar, although they showed how not to start a second half as Poland took only 30 seconds to pass the ball into their net. Karol Linetty's finish will surely be the most gentle finish of the finals.

Robert Lewandowski, one of the world's best strikers of the last decade, once again looked condemned to underachievement in his country's shirt. He is not the first to suffer this affliction- George Weah, Didier Drogba and Mohamed Salah spring to mind.

Slovakia could be most underrated team in the tournament on this showing but will do well to shake off their tag of a Round of 16 leaver, a bit like Switzerland, or in CONCACAF terms, Mexico.

In Seville, it was at first refreshing to see a different style of football, possession play with changes of pace from Spain, a collective of little scurrying with tight turns and balls to feet. The home side pressed well too and ended up with 85% of possession...but failed to find the net.

Was is pass-enaccio again from Spain, forgetting the aim is to find the net by any means necessary?

Despite an apparent gulf in class in the first half, it was Sweden, on a rare sortie, who missed a great chance to score through Alexander Isak, whose shot was cleared off the line onto the post. The 21 year-old won the Copa del Rey with Real Sociedad this season so felt right at home on a sultry night in Seville. 

Some of his Nordic countrymen however seemed content to maintain a Viking shield wall all evening and repel the Iberian raids. Sweden can often be a tough nut to crack and the suspicion grew that it was going to be one of those nights for the team trying to score.

Euro 2020

Why Luis Enrique did not choose to bring on the battering ram of Adama Traoré in the second half as an alternative form of attack was baffling.

Even Gerard Moreno, the Europa League winner and author of 30 goals this season with Villareal, was only given 15 minutes. 

Spain's glorious tiki-taka era encouraged more nippy attacking midfielders like the teenage starlet Pedri, who did well tonight, rather than target men like Fernando Llorente or space attackers like Diego Costa or David Villa.

Fernando Torres, who profited from acceleration and a deft touch, is the model for current Spanish strikers but none have matched his goalscoring.

Spain did get Robin Olsen's gloves pretty dirty tonight but there are no points for that in football. 

Still, with three teams qualifying from four out of six groups, the goalless draw tonight felt less important than it should have done.

Seville's famous fruit leaves a bitter taste in the mouth when raw but makes a lovely marmalade after a while.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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