Scotland's sense of triumph lasted seven minutes, but the anger, frustration and regret that wiped it away were familiar enough. They twice surrendered the lead and the final moments of fretful ambition were in vain. Qualification for Euro 2012 is not beyond their grasp, but they are reliant on Czech Republic dropping points and the tale of failure that has become the story of Scottish football continues to endure.
Darren Fletcher restored belief when his goal – a smooth, clever finish from Kenny Miller's cross – put Scotland back in front in the 83rd minute. The demand then was to hold on and be resilient. There was anxiety in the way that Danny Wilson stretched to tackle Jan Rezek in the penalty area and even if the contact was minimal, it was enough for the player to fall to the ground and win a spot-kick, which Michal Kadlec fired high into the net.
The equaliser came in the 89th minute, and although there was time for a siege of the Czech goal, and for Christophe Berra to throw himself to the ground in a futile attempt to win a penalty (he was booked for diving), Scotland were left only with a terrible dismay. The win they needed, the win they believed was within reach, slipped away again.
The visitors had won only once in six matches this year, and Michal Bilek, the manager, was facing the sack if his side was to lose at Hampden. The angst seemed to be carried solely by their opponents.
Scotland's prospects were a fragile combination of hopefulness and fear that a moment of opportunity would be missed. This delicate balance was exposed in the opening minutes when Milan Baros won the ball near the penalty area, fed Petr Jiracek and ran into the six-yard box to reach the winger's cross. Baros stabbed his shot over and Bilek, looking aghast, held his head in his hands.
The Czechs must have been bemused at the amount of possession they were able to hoard. One passage of play ended with the ball at Baros's feet inside the penalty area, where Charlie Adam then stamped on the striker's leg. Despite being only yards away, Kevin Blom, the referee, did not award a penalty. If that was a reprieve, Scotland found the means to take advantage of it. Steven Naismith and James Morrison cut infield too often, so there was little width to the home side's attack, but a chip forward by Gary Caldwell saw Miller head down towards Naismith, only for Jan Lastuvka to rush from his line and grab the ball.
It took until the final minute of the first half to demand a save from Lastuvka. There was a surge of joy as Miller's scuffed shot bounced into the net after the goalkeeper failed to stop it with his left foot.
Straight from the restart the Czechs worked a move that ended with Baros pulling a shot narrowly wide. It was a glaring opportunity.
As if overwrought, Scotland retreated and they were inevitably punished. Jan Rezek was allowed enough time at the back post to control a cross, then drive the ball into the six-yard box, where it bounced into the net off Jaroslav Plasil's stomach.
At that moment, everything seemed lost, and bookings for Miller and Scott Brown brought suspensions that keep them out of Tuesday's game against Lithuania.
Scotland (4-1-4-1): McGregor; Hutton, Caldwell, Berra, Bardsley (Wilson, 75); Adam (Cowie, 78); Brown, Fletcher, Morrison, Naismith (Robson, 86); Miller.
Czech Republic (4-2-3-1): Lastuvka; Hubnik, Rajnoch, Sivok, Kadlec; Hubschman, Plasil; Petrzela (Rezek, 56), Rosicky, Jiracek (Pekhart, 77); Baros (Vacek, 90).
Referee Kevin Blom (Holland).
Man of the match Kenny Miller (Scotland).
Match rating 8/10
Attendance 51,457Reuse content