Make or break for Scotland against Czech Republic

Scotland v Czech Republic

Venue:
Hampden Park, Glasgow
Date:
3 September 2011
Kick-off:
1500 BST
Coverage:
BBC Radio Scotland 1400 BST, Highlights, BBC 1 Scotland 2215 BST
Scotland striker Kenny Miller
Miller will lead the line at Hampden as Scotland seek maximum points

Eleven months have passed since the Friday fright night in Prague when Scotland's football fans were left bewildered and frustrated by a now infamous 4-6-0 tactical formation.

The next day's newspaper headlines would have been the easiest ones a sub-editor has ever had to dream up: "No strikers, no chances, no points."

The unravelling of Craig Levein's "plan A" thanks to Roman Hubnik's goal going into the final quarter in the Czech capital, is still being discussed almost a year on.

But Scotland's Euro 2012 future is still alive as we head into a rematch with Michal Bilek's men.

A victory is a must, anything less than three successive wins and it is likely the Scots will have to beat the world and European champions Spain in their own back yard next month.

Levein has handed a start to captain Darren Fletcher, whose last international appearance was against the Faroe Islands in November.

His last first team appearance full stop was in Manchester United's final game of last season in May.

A gamble? Not so, according to the man himself.

"I feel as fit as I ever have, I feel strong," said the skipper.

"Players have had one or two more matches than me but I don't believe that's a problem."

Another man starting and who hasn't kicked a ball competitively this season is Alan Hutton.

His preparation for this match was interrupted by the small matter of move from Tottenham to Aston Villa as he rejoined the man who gave him his Rangers debut and first Scots cap - Alex McLeish.

Levein's team picks itself on this occasion, with Christophe Berra's experience landing him the job of partnering Gary Caldwell in central defence, despite the excellent performance produced by Danny Wilson in last month's friendly win over Denmark.

The Czechs are a shadow of their former greatness, although the same was said before their 1-0 win last year.

We can start at the back with the very notable absence of Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech.

The pitfalls of having such a celebrated number one were highlighted by the medial ligament strain suffered by the 84-times capped keeper.

His replacement is likely to be Hamburg's Jaroslav Drobny.

All three goalkeepers in the Czech squad have four caps between them, Drobny has them all.

The consensus in the country is that a generation was spoiled with success. The likes of Berger, Poborsky, Nedved and Koller are simply not around any more.

Bilek will rely heavily on Thomas Rosicky, though the Arsenal midfielder has looked weary in recent times.

Czech Republic striker Milan Baros
Scotland will need to keep a close eye on striker Baros

But, a man with 80 plus caps at the age of 30 is already aware of the weight of expectation on his shoulders.

If he is on form, he will pop up anywhere and everywhere on the Hampden pitch.

But he won't harbour all the pressure from a Czech point of view.

The prolific Milan Baros - who withdrew from the squad the last time they played the Scots - is back. A record of 39 goals in 82 internationals speaks for itself.

David Lafata may join Baros up front, depending on how adventurous Bilek is.

He was the Czech top flight's top scorer last season, helping unheralded Baumit Jablonec to third in the championship.

As important as Rosicky to the engine room is Bordeaux's Jaroslav Plasil, who was also a thorn in Scottish sides last October.

But the abiding memory when you cast your mind back to that night, is that the Czech defence looked wobbly and it could and should have been tested.

This time it is sure to be put under far greater pressure in front of a full and expectant Hampden.

There is a five-point gap between the Czechs in second place in Group I and the Scots in third. Wins on Saturday and on Tuesday, against Lithuania, would put the Scots in the box seat for a play-off berth.

If that happens, the Scots would go to Lichtenstein for their penultimate game at the same time the Czechs host the Spanish.

Pessimism to optimism in 12 months and one article, it is the Scottish way.

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