Euro 2020(1): Day Three – Scotland the Meme

by | Jun 15, 2021

Have some sympathy for poor David Marshall. At 36 years old this is his first major tournament with Scotland, towards the end of a 19 year long career which has taken in Celtic, Norwich City, Cardiff City, Hull City, Wigan Athletic and Derby County, and has also made 45 appearances for his country. He’s an accomplished goalkeeper with long career behind him. And now this.

Czechia had been decribed beforehand as the match that Scotland had to win. With England and Croatia coming up but qualifying places for the best four third placed teams, one win might be enough to put them through to the next round. Confidence grew further on Sunday afternoon, when the other two teams in their group played out a match that left few with much to fear for when Scotland play them. And now this.

There’s a conversation to be had about the extent to which goalkeepers should stay close to their goals, but in the modern game it seems increasingly apparent that they are expected to play as sweepers as well as their normal position. So, seven minutes into the second half at Hampden Park yesterday afternoon and with Scotland on the attack in search of an equalising goal, it wasn’t that astonishing to see their goalkeeper thirty-odd yards from his goal.

What happened next, though, was extraordinary. Jack Hendry attempted a shot on target from distance which was charged down and the ball was released to Patrik Schick. Schick looked up at the very start of his run. He could see how badly out of position Marshall was. But even taking into that into account, what happened next was out of the ordinary. Schick, barely five yards into the Scotland half, launched a remarkable curling lob over the goalkeeper and into the back of the goal.

Within seconds, still images of Marshall entangled in the goal were flashing across social media. Within minutes, those images had been doctored. Within a few more, some of them were animated. David Marshall had been memefied. It was just about the worst start that Scotland could have hoped for, to their first tournament appearance in very nearly 23 years.

With home advantage and against a team of mixed talents, there was reason for Scotland to be quietly optimistic, going into this match. By ten minutes into the second half, though, this optimism had yielded to a a more familiar fatalism. Schick had done his first damage three minutes from half-time, a well-placed downward header into the bottom corner of the goal which silenced Hampden Park. And now this.

It wasn’t even as though Scotland had played particularly badly, either. Both teams had chances and half-chances – Tomas Vaclik made an excellent save from a Lyndon Dykes header at one end, Marshall saving well from Schick at the other. It was bitty, certainly not the finest spectacle of football that this tournament will see this summer, but Scotland very much still in the game. Even in the early stages of the second half, Vaclik had to stretch to save from one of his own defenders’ wayward backpasses, while Hendry hit the top of the crossbar from 35 yards.

The second goal, however, knocked the stuffing out of Scotland altogether. There were still chances – and what sort of a finish might have been set up had one of those gone in? – but in the end there could be few complaints. Czechia hadn’t ripped up any trees, but theirs had been a controlled and disciplined performance which hinted at their teams of the past who’ve made significant progress in these tournaments. Scotland now really need a result from their trip to Wembley on Friday night.

Have some sympathy for poor Robert Lewandowski. He’s won almost every honour there is to win in the club game with Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, scoring almost a goal a game in the process. At international level, though, nothing. None of this is to say, “Oh woe is he, having been born in the wrong country.” Poland is a country that can support a top quality international football team. After all, they reached the semi-finals of the World Cup in 1982 and were probably the third best team in the 1974 World Cup, after West Germany and the Netherlands.

It’s more that… well… Poland can have a self-destructive streak to rival just about any other team on the continent. Yesterday they were expected to beat Slovakia in their opening match of this tournament, but Lewandowski was largely kept muzzled and Poland chipped in with an own goal and a red card to make Slovakia’s job just that little bit easier. The own goal came after nineteen minutes, when Kamil Glik’s daisy-cutter bounced off the post and in off goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny’s elbow.

Karol Linetty levelled for Poland a minute into the second half, but a red card for Grzegorz Krychowiak – who had been warned several times by the referee prior to his dismissal – put the momentum back behind Slovakia, and with just over twenty minutes to play Milan Skriniar of Internazionale, who’d already earned his place in the team with his neutering of Lewandowski, scored the winning goal for Slovakia, who now have a little margin for error in their two remaining matches to get through to the next round.

Talking of reverting to type, Spain played Sweden in the evening in one of those matches that Spain always used to play. Their pass completion and possession rates were record breaking, but they couldn’t find their way through an obdurate Swedish defence, and when caught on the hop Sweden even managed a couple of chances of their own, most notably for Alexander Isak, who hit the post for Sweden. This could have been a lot worse for Spain. Pride of place amongst the Swedish performances went to goalkeeper Robin Olsen, particularly for one save to his left from a downward header from Dani Olmo.

Only six of the Spanish team from the last European Championships remains, and it shows. To break down a particularly obstinate defence at the end of an extremely long season requires a soupcon of luck and a hell of a lot of determination. Spain, for all their victory in the possession figures, didn’t have the required cutting edge last night, and if they’re unable to break down Sweden, then questions have to be asked about their ability to break down other teams later in this tournament. For Sweden, who now move on to play Slovakia and Poland, this was a very welcome point indeed.