SCOTLAND have often been at their most dangerous against the world’s major football nations and most vulnerable when facing minnows they have been widely expected to thrash over the years.

So when it emerged the Czech Republic had substituted their entire squad and coaching staff with less experienced replacements ahead of the Nations League match in Olomouc this evening due to positive coronavirus tests, seasoned observers must have shuddered.

Out have gone Tomas Vaclik of Sevilla, Tomas Soucek of West Ham and Patrik Schick of RB Leipzig and in have come Filip Nguyen of Liberc, Jan Juroska of Banik Ostrava and Tomas Holes of Slavia Prague.

The Czechs, who defeated Slovakia 3-1 in Bratislava on Friday night despite Covid-19 disrupting their preparations and beat England this time last year on their way to qualifying for the Euro 2020 finals, promise to be a shadow of their normal selves as a result of the changes.

The national team are strong favourites to triumph in their second Group B2 fixture– and they have slumped to some ignominious draws and dire defeats when they have been in that rare position in the past.

Yet, Steve Clarke, the Scotland manager, quickly dismissed suggestions this will be a straightforward outing for his side when he spoke to the media yesterday and stressed that nobody in his camp was, despite the confident predictions of a comfortable away win, taking a victory for granted.

“It will still be a tough game,” he said. “If the situation was reversed and we had to put out a Scottish team that involved players who are not here just now, we would put a team out on the pitch and expect them to be very competitive.”

Asked if he would at least acknowledge it will be an easier game, he said: “It is very difficult to sit here and say that. We can’t afford to let that kind of mentality come into the camp. It is not a question that I need to go into. I am more worried about our performance, how we play and whether we can get the result. I am only concentrating on what we can do.

“Every game is an opportunity when you play for your country. That is how you have to approach them. You have to go out there and you have to expect to win. I have never gone into a game of football in my life thinking I am going to lose and that is the mentality we have here.

“We prepare just in the same way as we have before, same mindset, same mentality. There will be a few changes just to freshen it up just because of the situation in terms of game time and training time. Although there has been a lot going on in the background, not a lot has changed in terms of preparation.”

The homework that Clarke and his backroom team had done on their opponents has had to be discarded and they spent much of the weekend frantically researching the players who have been hastily drafted in. The head coach is, though, confident he will have a good idea of the strengths and weaknesses of their hosts and how they will play come kick-off tonight.

“The squad that they’ve picked, we are working through just now,” he said. “We are looking at it and trying to catch various clips of them playing for their country and their clubs. They all play in the Czech Republic top division.

“We can find individual clips of individual players that we can piece together. We will know from the various sources we look at and all the internet platforms, there’s lots there. It won’t just be a name in the squad. We will know enough about the individuals, how they are coached and line up.

“Obviously they’ve never played together before. All you can try to do is find out bits about players, what their strengths are, what their qualities are, whether they are right-footed, whether they are left-footed, whether somebody in the squad has got a long throw, who might take the set plays, who might go forward for the set plays.”

Clarke certainly expects fully Roman Hubnik, the 6ft 4in Simga Olomouc centre half who scored a header in the infamous 1-0 defeat Scotland suffered at the hands of the Czechs in a Euro 2012 qualifier in Prague back in 2010, will be the man to watch at corners and free-kicks.

“I’m pretty sure the big lad who scored against Scotland in the 4-6-0 game if you like will go forward for set plays because he’s the size of a tower block,” he said of the 36-year-old defender who has been called up by his country for the first time since 2016.

Clarke switched to an experimental 3-5-2 formation against Israel on Friday night in order to get Andy Robertson and Kieran Tierney into his starting line-up. He refused to say if he will persevere with that formation or will revert to a flat back four. But he did stress that he will not use the run-out to prepare for the Euro 2020 play-off semi-final next month.

“There will be some changes,” he said. “I spoke about that before as the stage of the season where we are at. I imagine there will be more than three changes. This game is very much on my mind, I want three points. I want to come out of these games with four points. That’s a nice target, that’s a nice focus.”