Scotland 0 – 4 Belgium: Kevin De Bruyne masterclass as Scots fall to meek defeat
Red Devils, Yellow Peril, call them what you will. Belgium lived up to their name(s) and status to deliver a chastening defeat on powerless Scotland.
Whatever the colour of their shirt the world’s No.1 ranked side simply ooze style. Kevin De Bruyne scored the last goal having made the first three. The Scots had no answer to such quality as they slumped to second bottom of their Euro 2020 qualifying group, below both Kazakhstan and Cyprus.
Defeat to the Belgians was Scotland’s biggest in a home European Championship or World Cup qualifier. No new manager, not even one as enthusiastically endorsed on his appointment as Steve Clarke, will want this on their ledger so early on.
No one could doubt the hosts’ determination to atone for Friday night’s more meaningful defeat to Russia. However, they just did not possess the wherewithal to achieve this mission against a team so vastly superior in every department. Clarke’s task is proving every bit as tricky as he might have feared. With Moscow next on the itinerary, it isn’t getting going to get much easier.
Scotland will also be without Scott McTominay, who is suspended for the next Group I clash with Russia after being booked for a second-half foul on Dries Mertens. Scotland will hope to have seen the last of Roberto Martinez’s side for a lengthy spell. In three matches in the last 12 months the aggregate score now stands at 11-0 to Belgium.
As against Russia, Scotland started brightly. As against Russia, there was a goal around the nine-minute mark. Just not for Scotland, this time.
There was no better illustration of class against honest endeavour. For all their pluck, for all their good intentions, Scotland succumbed the first time Belgium sniffed a chance. The hosts were left criminally short at the back as their opponents broke forward. In the blink of an eye Romelu Lukaku had scored his 49th international goal.
Three-nil down at half-time, it was one of those evenings when the SFA Head of Entertainment had to make a quick call to the video editing suite: “Get the free-kicks v England out again”. Leigh Griffiths’ strikes from June 2017 were played out against a backdrop of the Proclaimers in an admirable attempt to rally fans, who had been in fine voice early on.
Offered stout support on a night when even the most fed-up Tartan Army member knew their backing was more important than ever, the hosts pressed high up the park – perhaps too high – and pushed Belgium back from the start.
Were the visitors taken aback? Toby Alderweireld played a pass straight out of the the park to huge cheers. It offered hope the Belgians might be rattled. But they nixed this idea the first chance their front men had to stretch their legs.
Dries Mertens took possession just outside his own area after a Scotland free-kick had broken down. With right back Stephen O’Donnell even higher up the park than right midfielder Robert Snodgreass, Scotland were left utterly exposed. Belgium took advantage with ruthless precision. Mertens sent De Bruyne on his way down the left. Ryan Christie, ostensibly playing in the No 10 position, was left to scamper after him while Andy Robertson was left to try and stop the Manchester City player finding Lukaku.
The Internazionale forward checked his run, De Bruyne placed the ball where he wanted it and Scotland were a goal down just nine minutes in and having played as well as anyone expected. Nevertheless, the knowledge San Marino had kept the Belgians out until the 43rd minute on Friday offered some food for thought. Scotland were three down by this juncture as the difficult night that had been anticipated unfolded in front of an eerily quiet Hampden. A small corner of celebrating Belgians punctured the silence after 24 and then 32 minutes.
Both goals were scored by Belgian centre-halves, which said everything about a side playing a different game to the Scots. One of Clarke’s myriad problems is finding centre-halves able to do the bare minimum and defend. A De Bruyne cross from the Belgium right was slung into the Scottish danger area and Thomas Vermaelen stole in before Liam Cooper to prod home. Eight minutes later Toby Alderweireld got above Cooper centre-half partner Charlie Mulgrew to head De Bruyne’s corner in off the underside of the bar despite the efforts of both David Marshall and Matt Phillips, who was standing on the line.
Did Belgium ease off in the second half? Perhaps the links Martinez has to the country – he is married to a Scot after all – saw him issue the order to keep the score at a semi-respectable margin. Belgium played out the rest of the match almost like a training match. Scotland still struggled to carve out an opening and were embarrassed in another way when O’Donnell was booked for blatant simulation after collapsing in the box under a non-challenge from Vermaelen just before the hour mark.
De Bruyne then claimed the goal he deserved with eight minutes left when steering a shot into the corner after Lukaka’s lay-off.