Scotland’s first match at a men’s major finals in 23 years ended in anguish after Patrik Schick’s incredible halfway-line goal helped the Czech Republic inflict a deflating opening Euro 2020 defeat at Hampden.
Schick’s goal, which added to his headed first-half opener, punctured a carnival atmosphere with a sharp dose of reality for Steve Clarke’s side.
Around 9,000 fans witnessed the Scots strike the bar amid a glut of chances, but a first foray beyond the group stage already looks a tough ask.
Scotland now go to Wembley on Friday with a heightened need for a positive result against a buoyant England, before their group campaign comes to a close against Croatia in Glasgow four days later.
It was a day a generation of fans thought they would never see again. For those in their early 20s and younger, the sight of Scotland on a stage such as this was embraced for the first time.
While the revelry in the build-up lasted for hours as supporters trickled into Hampden, a nervous tension was palpable throughout the place. There are some things some Euro 2020 branding just cannot hide.
From videos of the team bus arriving, to the news that Kieran Tierney was out injured, nerves were jangling everywhere.
A blistering start from the Scots served to steady the ship amid a cacophony that defied the quarter-full national stadium.
Scotland rampaged out the blocks. John McGinn’s early snapshot triggered a roar from the crowd, every booming run and cross from Andy Robertson had the crowd on their feet.
But, slowly, as the Scots were forced back, the nervousness and Czech confidence grew. David Marshall was forced into an early save. A warning shot of what was to come.
Clarke’s side roared back with courage and belief befitting a team who had held their nerve in two shootouts to get here.
Robertson again owned the left with a run and cross, Dykes should have done better with a first-time effort, and Robertson was denied by the fingertips of Tomas Vaclik, triggering thunder in the stands.
But as the game looked destined for a stalemate at half-time, the hammer blow arrived. A corner was just about cleared, only for the Scots to switch off.
Vladimir Coufal overlapped with space and time on his side, his delivery being met by Schick, who steered his header home while sandwiched between Liam Cooper and Grant Hanley.
Che Adams was introduced at half-time and he made a difference, but not before Marshall twice saved Scotland just seconds after the restart.
Scotland rallied again. A floated effort from Jack Hendry scudded the bar as Hampden gasped. They did so again as a misplaced Tomas Kalas clearance looped over Vaclik, who just recovered to clear.
If only Marshall could have done likewise three minutes later. Hendry’s attempted drive was charged down with Scotland exposed badly.
The ball broke to Schick on the halfway line, and the Bayer Leverkusen man did not even look up as his astonishing arching shot arrowed over Marshall. Hampden was so silent the noise of the ball hitting the net could be heard.
The hosts came again and again in the search of a lifeline. An Armstrong effort looped just over, while Dykes twice went close.
Twenty three years of pain are over. A new feeling of angst is just settling in.
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