Amid a wave of excitement in Glasgow, the dominant Czech striker struck either side of half-time to put his country top of the section and leave the Tartan Army deflated.
Scotland national coach Steve Clarke now faces some crucial decisions for Friday’s second group match against long-standing rivals England at Wembley. The Czechs stay at Hampden to take on Croatia and will be buoyed by an efficient and clinical display against the Scots.
Schick’s glancing header opened the scoring near the break but his second, an exquisite 50-yard lob over the Scotland goalkeeper David Marshall, will be a contender for goal of the tournament.
Creativity from Scotland was too often absent. The Czechs controlled midfield and deserved their win. There was no lack of Scottish effort but a need for more quality at vital moments.
They were exposed at the second goal while chasing an equaliser and failed to properly get at their opponents down the flanks. Changing that for England is Clarke’s challenge.
The entire nation had, of course, waited more than two decades to see Scotland return to the major international stage. A full 23 years since Craig Brown’s side trudged off the St Etienne pitch after a 3-0 World Cup skelping by Morocco on June 23, 1998, it seemed fitting that Hampden was staging this match.
It is fully 25 years since Scotland’s last European Championship appearance so there was little time to waste. A global pandemic wasn’t going to stop the Tartan Army even though less than 10,000 people were inside the ground. Millions of others in fan zones, pubs, streets and living rooms shared the anticipation.
Euro 2020 got off to decent start with plenty entertainment and Scotland were being urged to attack the Czechs. Without a key player in defender Kieran Tierney – a pre-match injury doubt deemed not fit enough even for the substitutes’ bench – Clarke remained pragmatic with his team selection.
One of his priorities was matching the physically-imposing Czechs and coping with their aerial threat, particularly at set-pieces. Schick, midfielders Tomas Soucek and Alex Kral, plus defenders Tomas Kalas and Ondrej Celustka all exceed the 6ft mark and posed danger which concerned Clarke.
Naming players like Stuart Armstrong and Ryan Christie in the starting line-up also indicated a plan to drive the team forward in possession. That would certainly appeal to the home support, who despite restricted numbers made a deafening noise as the teams emerged. A timely airing of Yes Sir, I Can Boogie through the tannoy helped a little.
John McGinn has long been a Tartan Army idol and he had the first attempt on goal blocked from an acute angle in the opening moments. It was an energetic start from both sides. Marshall produced a fine save low to this right to stop Schick’s driven shot on 16 minutes.
Then came a flowing Scottish move started by Scott McTominay, with the ball passing through Armstrong and Andy Robertson before a cross which striker Lyndon Dykes side-footed just wide of target.
The sight of wing-back Stephen O’Donnell blocking Christie after the Celtic forward’s jinking run eliminated two opponents didn’t go down well, but Clarke would have been encouraged at that stage. Jaroslav Silhavy, his opposite number, had taken a seat in the technical area.
The probing continued. On 31 minutes, Christie collected a head-flick from a throw in and sprayed the ball out to Robertson. The captain was alone entering the Czech penalty area and dispatched a vicious shot which was touched over the crossbar by goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik’s fingertips.
Having failed to convert when in the ascendancy, Scotland found themselves punished. Perhaps predictably so.
The second phase of a Czech corner climaxed with Vladimir Coufal delivering a cross from the right flank towards Schick. The impressive Bayer Leverkusen forward climbed between Grant Hanley and Liam Cooper – Tierney’s replacement – to glance a precise header out of Marshall’s reach and into the corner of the net.
It was the perfect end to the first half for Silhavy’s side and understandably resulted in a subdued ambience around Hampden during the interval. Southampton striker Che Adams took Christie’s place for the second half with Scotland needing to force the issue somewhat.
The risk of leaving themselves exposed was made clear as both Schick and Vladimir Darida stung Marshall’s palms with netbound efforts within 60 seconds of the restart.
At the opposite end, Jack Hendry struck the crossbar after Vaclik palmed away a cross, and seconds later the keeper was backtracking frantically to push away a miscued clearance from his own centre-back, Tomas Kalas.
However, with Scotland chasing the game, gaps at the back were inevitable. Hendry’s ambitious shot was blocked midway inside the Czech half and Schick collected the ricochet. His first-time audacious lob almost on the halfway line looped over Marshall and into the net to effectively kill hopes of a comeback.
It was a sublime finish from the game’s outstanding player, although questions will be asked of the goalkeeper’s high positioning. Those in dark blue looked punch-drunk.
When an impromptu chance fell to Dykes on 66 minutes, his left-footed shot was stopped by Vaclik’s outstretched right leg. A brilliant late run by substitute James Forrest took him past two defenders before another block, this time from Ondrej Celustka.
There were several calls over Hampden’s PA system for everyone to keep masks on as per Covid guidelines. In truth, the Tartan Army might have welcomed full-face covers to prevent them watching any more agony.
Scotland (3-5-2): Marshall; Hendry (McGregor 67), Hanley, Cooper; O’Donnell (Forrest 79), Armstrong (Fraser 67), McTominay, McGinn, Robertson; Christie (Adams 46), Dykes (Nisbet 79).
Czech Republic (4-2-3-1): Vaclik; Coufal, Celustka, Kalas, Boril; Kral (Holes 67), Soucek; Masopust (Vydra 72), Darida (Sevcik 87), Jankto (Hlozek 67); Schick (Krmencik 87).