Scotland’s misery continues as they’re brushed aside by Belgium
Three goals in the first 32 minutes saw the visitors well on their way at Hampden Park
Kevin De Bruyne of Belgium celebrates his goal during the Euro 2020 qualifier with Scotland. Photo: Robert Perry/EPA
Scotland 0 Belgium 4
Steve Clarke raised eyebrows with his pre-match assertion that Belgium might prove the perfect opponents at the perfect time for Scotland. The manager’s attempts to boost the mood of a beleaguered football nation were undermined by harsh reality. Romelu Lukaku set the tone for an utterly dominant Belgian performance - in which Kevin De Bruyne was at the heart of everything positive – as the Scots endured yet another harrowing night.
Scotland teams, whilst unable to compete on technical terms with the world’s best over a concerted period now, are now also apparently easy to beat. Clarke must have his sights on next year’s Nations League semi-final, as his side’s only legitimate means of reaching Euro 2020, but has a significant task in raising morale in the meantime. After years in the doldrums, apathy now reigns. Whether Clarke is any closer to finding solutions after four matches in charge remains open to debate.
Belgium, as seems hardly worth pointing out, remain a joy to watch. The ease with which they dismantled Scotland was such that the teams could have been engaged in separate sports.
Clarke had been critical of his players in the aftermath of Friday’s 2-1 defeat to Russia, meaning changes as made in the home lineup were altogether logical. Robert Snodgrass, Ryan Christie and Kenny McLean were introduced while Oli McBurnie, subject to some quite hysterical critique during the early throes of his international career, had his place in attack taken by Matt Phillips. It soon became apparent that such switches would be in vain.
There was symmetry between this encounter and the one with Russia in the sense that Scotland opened promisingly. Whereas Scotland were a goal to the good thanks to their attacking efforts three days earlier, here a ruthless Belgian counterattack left them chasing a deficit inside 10 minutes. Scotland’s flurry was also only that; blink and you missed it.
From an attacking Scotland free-kick, a headed clearance fell to Dries Mertens. Stephen O’Donnell should have halted any potential danger there, with Mertens instead afforded ample time to whip a pass up the line to the marauding KeDe Bruyne. Lukaku, in yards of space, was played in by De Bruyne and slotted home underneath the advancing David Marshall. This was a goal of blissful simplicity, if one Scotland should have averted just outside their opposition’s penalty area.
It may be harsh to blame generous defending for Belgium’s second, such was the quality of De Bruyne’s cross from the right touchline. Thomas Meunier had flicked the ball back into the Manchester City man’s path before this act of genius, with Thomas Vermaelen on hand to score from all of three yards. Scotland’s fans do not seem to get angry about the gulf between their team and the world’s best any more; the air of resignation was as palpable as it was familiar.
Worse was to follow for Clarke before the interval. Charlie Mulgrew made a hash of trying to head a De Bruyne corner away, a scenario that played out perfectly for Toby Alderweireld. The defender’s header bounced in, via the crossbar, with the assistant referee due credit for the perfect call in awarding the goal. Thirty-two minutes in, it was a question of how many Belgium felt like scoring. Scotland were not even competitive.
A terrific Marshall save prevented Mertens from adding Belgium’s fourth within two minutes of the re-start. Embarrassment followed for O’Donnell, as he incurred a booking for a penalty area dive with only Vermaelen in close proximity.
The second half resembled a stand-off. Scotland were content at keeping the score semi-respectable, with Belgium perfectly well aware that the three points were secure. De Bruyne fired wide, 20 minutes from time, after a one-two with Mertens.
De Bruyne got the goal his showing fully deserved, a first-time and curled finish after collection of a Lukaku pass. Things frittered out from there; Scotland’s campaign did likewise long ago. – Guardian