Scotland took a big step towards winning their Nations League group, beating Czech Republic 1-0 to go eight games unbeaten.
The Hampden hosts started the game on the front foot, Newcastle United man Ryan Fraser opening the scoring inside the opening six minutes. A mix of direct attacking play and dogged defending allowed Scotland to secure a big win that puts them in pole position for Group A qualification.
Steve Clarke’s side were heading into their UEFA Nations League group match with real momentum. Seven unbeaten prior to this, Euro 2020 play-off final confirmation and a 1-0 win over Slovakia in recent days putting the Scottish football community in high spirits.
A third win inside a testing six-day triple-header would put the finishing touches on an already highly-impressive international break. In the sixth minute, Newcastle United winger Fraser put the team on their way to that.
Stephen O’Donnell did brilliantly to win the ball in the Czech half, feeding Lyndon Dykes who did so well to play in Fraser for the opener. It was a perfect start against a visiting side who were certainly no mugs.
The Czech’s are strong opposition and showed that in the first 45, Matej Vydra coming close with an effort after 23 minutes. But Scotland showed their quality, Fraser twice going near with shots from outside the box.
It was a very promising first half from Scotland but Czech Republic really piled the pressure on early in the second 45. For the entire first 15 minutes they controlled things, creating numerous opportunities Scotland got away with.
Riding the storm thereabouts, however, Clarke’s men still had the all-important lead. Plenty was coming their way, stand-in captain John McGinn having to make a block on the line to prevent a Czech equaliser.
Corners from Vladimir Darida were putting Scotland under siege but the home team were standing tall. How Tomas Soucek never put the away team back on level terms is anyone’s guess, putting the ball over the bar from about two yards in front of an empty net as the clock ticked down.
Substitute Oli McBurnie would so nearly punish Scotland’s visitors for this, firing a great effort towards goal but it cannoned off the bar eight minutes from time. In the end one goal was enough as Scotland secured another huge victory. Here are three things we learned.
Dykes and Fraser the deadly duo
Clarke may have found his front two pairing in the 3-5-2 system. Dykes has been the standout in his first five navy blue caps but Newcastle star Fraser has shone alongside him in a free role.
The QPR forward is someone you’d hate to play against, battering his way through a game alongside possessing a clinical touch. Fraser meanwhile can make direct runs with pace, providing an outlet for Dykes to knock balls on to.
Nations League security
Much has been said about whether or not the Nations League matters but to Scotland it certainly does. Progression in the last group earned them their Euro play-off matches and now has them in pole position for play-off matches ahead of World Cup 2022.
Sitting four points clear at the top of Group 2 in League B, one more win takes them into League A, where more potential qualification play-off matches await in years ahead.
Credit must be given to Scotland boss Clarke. As a footballing country, hope was rapidly diminishing in the national team. Now the former Kilmarnock manager’s ideas are being brought on board by the players, things are clicking.
Scotland won’t batter teams 3-0 or 4-0 but what they will do is make themselves hard to beat. With a clinical talisman like Dykes up front too alongside top talent like McGinn, Andy Robertson, Fraser and Scott McTominay, this is the brightest Scotland have looked in many years. All eyes now loom on a date with destiny next month.