GLASGOW: Scotland’s return to a major international tournament for the first time in over two decades ended in a 2-0 defeat on Monday thanks to an excellent double from the Czech Republic’s Patrik Schick.
The Scots, absent from showpiece summer events since the 1998 World Cup, were sunk by Bayer Leverkusen striker Schick in front of 12,000 fans at Hampden Park in Glasgow.
Scotland started brightly but fell behind shortly before half-time as Schick headed home Vladimir Coufal’s cross.
There was even better to come from the 25-year-old Schick, as he struck a high, curling shot from just inside the Scotland half over the head of back-pedalling Scottish goalkeeper David Marshall and into the net.
“The ball bounced back, the goalkeeper was quite high, I took a look, I saw he was out there so I slammed it in,” said Schick.
Czech goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik made two important second-half saves from Scotland striker Lyndon Dykes as the hosts tried to force their way back into the game.
But there was no way through for Steve Clarke’s men, as the Czech Republic moved top of the early Group ‘D’ table ahead of their game with Croatia at Hampden on Friday.
“We want to advance, we are now facing the two favourites, sometimes you can get there on three points, but I think we’ll have to clinch one more to be sure,” said Czech Republic coach Jaroslav Silhavy.
The Scots will next face old rivals England, who made a successful start to their campaign with a 1-0 win over Croatia on Sunday, at Wembley on Friday.
“We need to take the experiences of today, learn from what happened and make a few little tweaks to our game,” said Scotland midfielder Stuart Armstrong.
In other action the pan-European tournament — delayed a year by the coronavirus pandemic — on Sunday, Denzel Dumfries scored a dramatic late winner as the Netherlands, back at a major tournament for the first time since 2014, defeated Ukraine 3-2 in a thrilling Group ‘C’ encounter in Amsterdam.
Dumfries, the PSV Eindhoven full-back, headed in a cross from substitute Nathan Ake five minutes from time to complete a madcap second half after the home side eased into a two-goal lead and then threw it away.
Captain Georginio Wijnaldum and striker Wout Weghorst netted within seven minutes early in the second half as the Dutch sought a successful return to a major tournament — after a seven-year absence — in front of 16,000 spectators at the Johan Cruyff Arena.
Wijnaldum’s left-foot finish in the 52nd minute opened the scoring before Weghorst quickly added a second.
That put the Dutch in command but Ukraine ensured a nervy finish when captain Andriy Yarmolenko pulled one back in the 75th minute with a superb strike and Roman Yaremchuk dived in front of Weghorst to head in a free kick from the left four minutes later.
North Macedonia lost 3-1 to Austria in an earlier Group ‘C’ match — their first match in a major tournament as an independent nation — in Bucharest despite an equaliser from 37-year-old captain Goran Pandev.
Michael Gregoritsch and Marko Arnautovic both came on as substitutes and scored late for Austria’s first win at a major tournament in 31 years and their first ever at the European Championship.
Austria captain David Alaba set up the winning goal for Gregoritsch, curling in a perfect cross in the 78th minute. Arnautovic then collected backheel flick from Konrad Leimer before calmly rounding goalkeeper Stole Dimitrievski and scoring the final goal with a minute to go.
Austria defender Stefan Lainer scored the first goal in the 18th minute but Pandev equalised 10 minutes later, making him the second oldest player to score in the tournament’s history.
World Cup holders France — with Karim Benzema recalled — are the favourites to win the continental crown.
They begin their campaign against Germany on Tuesday, with holders Portugal facing Hungary in the other Group ‘F’ match.
France and Germany usually play each other in the latter stages of major tournaments but the the teams will meet in the group stage of a European Championship or World Cup for the first time in Munich.
Their last match at a major tournament came in the Euro 2016 semi-finals. Antoine Griezmann scored twice for France in the 2-0 victory over then-World Cup champions Germany in Marseille.
Germany have never really recovered, and though the French lost to Portugal in the final five years ago, they went on to win the World Cup two years later.
Germany’s shock first round exit from the 2018 World Cup triggered an overhaul of the team. But in his final tournament before stepping down after 15 years, coach Joachim Loew has recalled some of the players he had axed after the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic meant that the overhauled squad failed to get the desired results.
With 2014 world champions Thomas Mueller and Mats Hummels back in the squad after more than two years, Germany will be considered as the underdogs when their largely untested line-up face their powerful neighbours.
With European champions Portugal awaiting next in their group before their final game against Hungary, avoiding defeat could prove decisive for Germany in their ‘group of death’.
Portugal will look to their opener with Hungary to get a head start on Germany and France but the holders will have to overcome a wall of noise made by 67,000 locals to make a statement of intent.
Hungary, playing in only their second European Championship in 49 years, are rank outsiders in the tournament’s toughest group but will compensate for what they lack in star names with passion and grit.
The shiny new Puskas Arena in Budapest is the only Euro 2020 stadium which will be at full capacity after local authorities agreed to exchange social distancing for a strict entry policy, requiring fans to return a negative Covid-19 test to gain access.
Published in Dawn, June 15th, 2021