Win the opening match of Euro 2020 against the Czech Republic and Scotland could potentially qualify for the knockout stage for the first time.
It’s not that easy, of course, but with four of the six third-placed finishers in the groups qualifying for the last 16, three points could be enough to advance.
Since England and Croatia are also in the group, the meeting with the Czechs in Hampden is our most winning match.
It’s also one the team will be confident in after Monday’s home and away wins against their opponents last fall. But how does Steve Clarke’s side beat the Czechs?
What are their strengths?
The Czechs are a good team with several quality players, most notably West Ham United, the standout Tomas Soucek, a powerful box-to-box midfielder who scored 13 goals last season.
Sampdoria’s Jakub Jankto is a technical, creative player who could hurt Scotland if given the time to direct passes to the final third and get himself into good positions around the penalty area. Striker Patrik Schick is also dangerous.
The Bayer Leverkusen attacker was involved in around 100 goals at the age of 25, scoring nine goals in the Bundesliga last season.
The Czechs are usually lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Slavia Prague’s Jan Boril and West Ham’s Vladimir Coufal providing breadth and mobility from the fullbacks, Soucek and Vladimir Darida the key players in midfield , and Jankto from the left.
With Schick as the front man, they can go into space and open the game, giving them an outball on the counterattack.
Who is their player to watch?
Young Sparta Prague forward Adam Hlozek seems to have all the ingredients to reach the highest level. At 18, he has an eye for goal, smart moves and is keen to lose his marker.
One for the fantasy football players among us?
How can Scotland trouble them in possession?
Defensivelyy, the Czechs will try to start in a 4-2-3-1 block, starting to press as the ball passes over the back before coming up and defending hand-to-hand in midfield. Often that means giving up the space behind the midfield line.
Against Albania, they had trouble cutting the supply against a wide back-three with the two midfielders in deeper positions, allowing easy passes to the strikers.
Scotland can expose and exploit the press, especially behind the back when they come up high to defend against a fullback, often isolating the centre-back.
The Czech Republic’s oppressive form leaves gaps behind the midfield line in the striker. Playing Scotland with a back three allows them to spread the game as widely as possible and create holes to play in.
For example, Kieran Tierney can dribble in such spaces and take out three players. Then, when Scotland first gives a pass to turn and play from, they can take out six players with two passes diagonally from Tierney to midfield and then to the other side.
Kieran Tierney, in possession of the ball, has the chance to take three Czech players out of the game.
And what about without the ball?
The Czechs seem to build from the back, but have a rigid system that can be pushed in quite easily.
Scotland in a 3-5-2 can press man-for-man on the central players and set traps on the full backs with a combination of the striker, fullback and external central midfielder.
We already saw in Scotland’s 1-0 win over Hampden last year what happens when we put aggressive pressure on the fullbacks. We can win back the ball in an advanced area and break with pace and numbers.
The Czechs start with a high and wide base, which means that the fullbacks will always struggle to recover if the ball is lost in midfield. Scotland cannot allow them easy possession of the ball in midfield.
Ryan Fraser stays onside and Lyndon Dykes makes the pass with the outside of his foot leading to a big chance and a goal.
By playing an aggressive forefoot back-five, they can easily defend passes in the feet and force turnovers, highlighting their strengths and exposing the Czechs’ weaknesses.
To win, Scotland will have to make it an aggressive transition game, with lots of turnovers and early balls behind.
The Czechs have a lot of technical players, but lack speed and mobility – that’s something Scotland can expose. By pressing high, forcing the Czechs to the left, setting traps and either winning the ball in a wide area or intercepting passes to the attackers, they can launch attacks after a recapture and break with regularity.
The Czechs will want an organized, open game, with much longer possession. Scotland is perfectly set to get in their face early, disrupt that and expose them to the phases of disorganized play.