Scotland’s disco-fuelled return fizzles out with Steve Clarke short of ideas | Louise Taylor

After Patrik Schick’s stunning goal for the Czech Republic, hosts full of hesitation belied their adoption of a Baccara classic

Somewhere along the road to Euro 2020 Steve Clarke and his players adopted Yes Sir, I Can Boogie as their anthem and, in many ways, it has proved a great choice.

Yet while the 1977 Baccara hit is infinitely more uplifting than Flower of Scotland, a song including the lyrics “you wanna know if I can dance” and “I’m a sensation” could be construed as a slightly overconfident theme tune for a side competing in their first major finals for 23 years.

Indeed for much of a cool, grey, breezy, June afternoon at Hampden Park, Scotland resembled a gawky teenager with two left feet and alarmingly stiff hips looking self-consciously uncoordinated beneath the unforgiving glare of a disco glitter ball.

In a contest that the Czech Republic initially appeared happy to make as scrappy as possible, Stephen O’Donnell seemed particularly shaky at right wing-back and Clarke evidently missed the left-sided defensive order customarily instilled by Kieran Tierney’s usual presence in the back three.

Knee trouble deprived Scotland of an Arsenal defender integral to their recent success and the outstanding Patrik Schick knew precisely how to exploit their new-found uncertainty and insecurity.

Before half-time had arrived, Scotland looked increasingly heavy-legged as they laboured to close down Jaroslav Silhavy’s players. They had begun to concede too many corners and, in the wake of one such partially cleared set piece, West Ham’s Vladimir Coufal was able to overlap down the right and cross invitingly for Schick.

The Bayer Leverkusen centre-forward duly seized the moment, intelligently finding a gap between Grant Hanley and Liam Cooper before planting an imperious header beyond David Marshall’s grasp. It permitted the tiny contingent of Czech Republic supporters tucked away in a corner of Hampden Park to finally make their voices heard.

Until then the vast majority of the 12,000-strong crowd had done their utmost to crush the spirits of Silhavy’s team courtesy of a deafening wall of noise many audiences four times the size would have struggled to replicate.

Scotland fans watching in the Glasgow fan zone reflect the adverse scoreline inside Hampden Park.
Scotland fans watching in the Glasgow fan zone reflect the adverse scoreline inside Hampden Park. Photograph: Ian Rutherford/PA

Before 10am on Monday, central Glasgow was awash with tartan-clad, sometimes kilted and often beery Scotland supporters. With Hampden’s capacity limited by coronavirus restrictions many were destined to watch the match on big screens erected in a fan zone patrolled by yellow-vested Covid marshals urging everyone to visit a specially parked virus-testing bus.

Back on the pitch, Clarke’s players faced a different type of test. After an opening period of tight margins and few chances – although Andy Robertson probably should have scored – Schick’s opener had challenged Lyndon Dykes and company to prove they were in the same attacking league.

Admittedly very briefly, they looked equal to the challenge. With QPR’s Dykes making an awful nuisance of himself as he pulled off a smart decoy manoeuvre, Jack Hendry’s curling shot struck the crossbar and Tomas Kalas was very nearly forced into scoring an own goal. But then David Marshall made one of those miscalculations guaranteed to destroy a goalkeeper’s sleep for months to come.

Marshall is not deployed as a sweeper keeper but, for some reason, he had strayed outside his penalty area when Schick stepped over the halfway line and instantly sensed opportunity. His second goal – and 13th in 27 international appearances – was a thing of exquisite beauty, worth replaying, endlessly, for years to come. The ball was already travelling at remorseless pace when it arced over Marshall but Schick’s stellar technique had ensured its 50-yard-plus trajectory contained sufficient bend and dip to eventually ensure it hit the top corner.

With a sublime yet soul-crushing swipe of a boot, joy and optimism were all but erased from the stadium. The subsequent sight of John Carver, Clarke’s assistant, engaging in grim-faced, head-shaking technical-area conversation suggested the pair were running out of tactical buttons to press. Their side’s lack of attacking width must have been of particular concern.

Dykes missed a sitter, permitting Tomas Vaclik to stretch out his right foot and make a brilliant save that should never have been possible. It seemed to serve as confirmation that this most definitely was not Scotland’s day.

Indeed for those of a tartan persuasion, it was not only turning into the worst sort of warm-up for the date with England at Wembley on Friday but a cruelly anticlimatic ending to a long-anticipated party that never got going properly.

As the Czech Republic revelled in retaining a well-honed defensive shape, for the hosts a place in the knockout stages appeared as far out of reach as a quarantine-free summer holiday by the Mediterranean.

The Fiver: sign up and get our daily football email.

A voice on the public address system repeatedly reminded spectators to keep their masks on when exiting the stadium and, as a smattering of resigned boos greeted the final whistle, Clarke’s players must have longed for similar camouflage.

No longer the soundtrack of a charmed summer, the strains of Yes Sir, I Can Boogie suddenly seemed more cruel taunt than unofficial national anthem.

Contributor

Louise Taylor at Hampden Park

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Steve Clarke refuses to blame Scotland’s Marshall for being lobbed from halfway
The Scotland manager, Steve Clarke, insisted that Czech Republic striker Patrik Schick deserved the credit for his ‘fantastic’ goal from near the halfway line

Ewan Murray at Hampden Park

14, Jun, 2021 @5:42 PM

Article image
Schick’s halfway-line hit helps Czech Republic spoil Scotland’s party
Patrik Schick scored a fine header and from the halfway line to make Scotland pay for wasted opportunities at Hampden Park

Ewan Murray at Hampden Park

14, Jun, 2021 @2:52 PM

Article image
Steve Clarke vows Scotland will make quicker tournament return this time
Manager Steve Clarke pledged to make sure it would not be 23 years until Scotland’s next major tournament

Ewan Murray at Hampden Park

22, Jun, 2021 @10:48 PM

Article image
Scotland’s key problem remains unchanged: the lack of an X factor | Ewan Murray
Scotland are a decent side and can build on their Euro 2020 performance, but they need a top-class, final-third resource

Ewan Murray

23, Jun, 2021 @12:53 PM

Article image
Scotland’s Billy Gilmour catches the eye with star turn against England | Ewan Murray
Unassuming Ayrshire lad put in an impressive shift at Wembley that fully justified Steve Clarke’s faith in his raw talent

Ewan Murray at Wembley

18, Jun, 2021 @9:28 PM

Article image
Steve Clarke defends Scotland approach but may be without Tierney again
As he tried to lift his beaten side, the manager dropped a heavy hint Kieran Tierney may not be fit to face England at Wembley

Ewan Murray

15, Jun, 2021 @9:30 PM

Article image
Steve Clarke tells Scotland to retain ‘emotional control’ amid Euros fever
Scotland’s manager, Steve Clarke, urged his side to make the most of the occasion as they prepare for their first tournament finals match since 1998

Ewan Murray

13, Jun, 2021 @9:30 PM

Article image
Steve Clarke: ‘My boys are English and my grandchildren. I enjoy the rivalry’
Scotland’s manager tells Ewan Murray about watching from Hampden’s terraces in 1973, going incognito at Wembley in 1981 and his hopes of making history at Euro 2020

Ewan Murray

09, Jun, 2021 @12:03 PM

Article image
Steve Clarke has cracked Scotland’s Tierney-Robertson conundrum | Ewan Murray
Manager has worked out how to use two quality left-backs in one team, as pre-Euro 2020 draw with the Netherlands showed

Ewan Murray

03, Jun, 2021 @12:00 PM

Article image
Steve Clarke tells Scotland they need at least a draw from England clash
Kieran Tierney is expected to start for Scotland and Steve Clarke said: ‘We have to get something from Wembley’

Ewan Murray

17, Jun, 2021 @9:30 PM