Euro 2020: Day 4
The fourth day of action sure Scotland return to tournament football for the first time since France 98, and an expectant Hampden Park, only part full due to restrictions, were hopeful that it would be a winning start for Steve Clarke and his men against a nation they have beaten the last 3 times they met when they faced the Czech Republic. With Kieran Tierney missing, Clarke was forced to reshuffle his pack somewhat, while also opting to partner Ryan Christie with Lyndon Dykes up front. The visitors opted to start with a solitary target man, with the in-form 25 year old striker Patrik Schick given the nod.
In an opening half hour of few chances, Scotland went close when Andy Robertson saw his effort tipped over by Sevilla shot-stopper Tomáš Vaclík. At the other end, Scottish hero David Marshall was once again called upon, to deny Schick as the Czech Republic looked to forge an opening of their own. The deadlock was eventually broken 3 minutes before the break, and it was the Bayer Leverkusen striker Patrik Schick who did the damage, getting on the end of a cross from West Ham defender Vladimir Coufal to give the away side a valuable lead to take into the break.
Scotland almost found themselves two down at the resumption of the second half, before then beginning to create more opportunities themselves, as the pendulum of control continued to swing between to the two sides, Scotland making changes at the break in the hope of changing the pattern of play. However, just as they looked to be regaining a foothold, the Czech Republic grabbed a second after a mistake from Jack Henry allowed Patrik Schick to grab a second, the former Roma man producing a superb long range finish with David Marshall off his line.
A shell-shocked Scotland looked to force their way back into the game, Dykes producing a good close range save by Vaclík just moments after Stuart Armstrong saw his effort deflect over the bar. Dykes was then thwarted again as the ball broke to him inside the box, but his side footed effort was saved by the feet of Vaclík when he perhaps should have done better. For their part, the Czech Republic seemed happy to just try and keep things tight and prevent Scotland from creating any real openings, rather than looking to drive forward in search of a third.
As Scotland continued to push, making 2 more changes as they sent on Nisbet and Forrest, the visitors could and perhaps should have had a third though, Schick finding space in the box but this time his effort straight at a relieved Marshall as he missed out on the chance to grab the first hat-trick of the tournament. Forrest then showed a fine turn of foot and great bit of skill himself, driving into the box only to see his effort blocked, the resulting corner way too easy for Vaclík. Despite creating openings, Scotland were unable to even secure a consolation goal, which now leaves them with all to do as they face England at Wembley on Friday.
The second game of the afternoon saw Poland take on Slovakia in Saint Petersburg, a game which had originally been planned to take place in Dublin before the impact of the pandemic led to a change of venue. The Eastern European clash also saw the first red card of the tournament, as Grzegorz Krychowiak was dismissed for a second bookable offence just after the hour mark. Before that, Slovakia had made the brighter start and were rewarded with the lead inside the opening 20 minutes. Former Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny, notoriously unlucky at the start of tournaments, was caught out again, this time seeing the ball ricochet of him for an own goal after a fine run and cut inside from former Manchester City youngster Robert Mak created the chance.
Poland created little the first half, talismanic striker Robert Lewandowski largely absent, as they struggled to break down a resolute Slovakian defence, superbly marshalled by Milan Skriniar off the back of his successful Serie A campaign. They did pull themselves level just moments into the second half, however, when a great build up saw Karol Linetty on hand to grab the equaliser. However, any momentum gained from the equaliser was then lost as they found themselves going down to 10 men, and just 7 minutes later Slovakia restored their lead. Defender Milan Skriniar fired home from the edge of the penalty area to give Slovakia a massive victory and fine start to their campaign in Group E.
The other Group E game saw Spain face off against Sweden, over in Sevilla, another game which had seen a venue switch following the pandemic. Hosts Spain had also found their preparation ravaged by a Covid outbreak. However, they were still fancied by some to repeat their success from last decade under the leadership of Luis Enrique, and found themselves dominating the game from the off, but what they had in terms of possession they seemed to lack in terms of cutting edge. Despite the dominance, they almost found themselves behind when Alexander Isak, who plays his club football in La Liga, saw his effort hit both a defender and post before falling into the grateful clutches of Spanish keeper Unai Simon. The only surprise at the break was that the game was still goal-less, Alvaro Morato the guilty party in wasting the best chance for Spain.
After the break, although Spain continued to control the play they struggled to create as much, while Isak again did his best for Sweden, this time picking out strike partner Marcus Berg, who managed to fluff his lines and fire wide when hitting the target seemed the very least outcome from the opportunity. Spain made several changes, including sending on Gerard Moreno to lead the line, but the Villarreal striker was another who seemed to suffer stage fright on the big scene as he put a great opportunity straight into the arms of Robin Olsen with his head. At the end of the game, Spain had enjoyed a phenomenal 85% possession, with 17 shots (5 on target) but again people will point to their lack of cutting edge as the real achilles heel for Enrique’s men, although one positive was that of youngster Pedri, the Barcelona man having a great game in midfield. The draw means Slovakia find themselves surprise leaders of the group which many had them favourites to finish bottom of.
Over in Brazil, Colombia won their first game 1-0 against Ecuador in the early hours of the morning with an Edwin Cardona goal before half time, and it was the turn of Argentina to get their campaign underway yesterday evening as they faced Chile. The Estádio Olímpico in Rio played host, and Argentina, who enjoyed a tribute from the organisers to Maradona pre game, had their current number 10 to thank as his free kick gave them the lead just after the half hour mark, a fitting tribute from a modern genius to arguably one of the greatest players the world has ever seen. Any hopes of a winning start, however, were quashed when Eduardo Vargas scored on the follow up after Arturo Vidal had seen his penalty saved, Martínez pushing the effort onto the woodwork before Vargas headed home the rebound.