Scotland’s Euro 2020 qualifying campaign produced another horror night, with Steve Clarke’s team losing 4-0 to Belgium at Hampden.
On a miserable evening where a first win over the Belgians in 32 years had been needed to perhaps resurrect the campaign, which is barely past the halfway stage, the Dark Blues found themselves going beneath Cyprus in Group I – with only San Marino below.
There are still four qualifiers to play by the end of 2019, but the Tartan Army’s eyes are now fixed on next March, when the Nations League play-offs offer a last-ditch hope of reaching a first major tournament since 1998 for Scotland.
Clarke made four changes from the side beaten 2-1 by Russia on Friday, with Kenny McLean, Robert Snodgrass, Matt Phillips and Ryan Christie coming in for James Forrest, Ryan Fraser, Oli McBurnie and John McGinn.
Belgium boasted a high-profile 11 including world class talents like Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne and Real Madrid’s Thibaut Courtois.
Scotland started well and in possession were getting forward quickly and in numbers. Christie robbed both Leander Dendoncker and Thomas Meunier in the early going.
However, on nine minutes, Robert Snodgrass hit a free-kick from the left too deep and Belgium broke ruthlessly – Dries Mertens took the ball out from the back, stepping past Stephen O’Donnell and playing in De Bruyne down the left. The passmaster made no mistake in picking out Romelu Lukaku to slide the ball under David Marshall from 12 yards.
Clarke’s men – especially Christie – continued to harass, despite the blow. However, on 18 minutes, Lukaku was almost played in again by De Bruyne, but couldn’t quite get a meaningful touch on a chipped through ball.
Their second goal came on 24 minutes. Callum McGregor failed to win the ball back from Belgium’s short corner, and De Bruyne fired a pinpoint cross in for the unmarked Thomas Vermaelen to send the ball home from six yards out.
The Dark Blues’ first shot in earnest came on 29 minutes, with Phillips having a dig from outside the area. Courtois comfortably saved the low effort.
Up the other end, Youri Tielemans sent a volley just past Marshall’s right post, before Toby Aldeweireld headed another De Bruyne ball off the underside of the bar and in for the visitors’ third.
Belgium were being clinical, but Scotland’s limp defending was making it so simple, and the break couldn’t come soon enough.
In the second half, Marshall tipped an early Mertens effort round the post, while Scots skipper Andy Robertson had a shot saved at the front stick by Courtois.
With an hour played, Snodgrass sent a free-kick – won by Christie – over the bar.
On 70 minutes, a De Bruyne one-two with Mertens saw him send a 16-yard effort just by Marshall’s right-post, but Belgium seemed happy with the lead they’d build-up and were never out of first gear the whole second half.
They still managed another goal, with De Bruyne left all on his own on the far side of the box to curl Lukaku’s pass beyond Marshall.
It was a thoroughly deflating night to be a Scotland fan and those in Hampden to witness it first-hand will be much lower in number for the now meaningless remaining home qualifiers against San Marino and Kazakhstan.
Scotland: Marshall, O’Donnell, Robertson, Mulgrew, Cooper, McTominay, McGregor, McLean, Snodgrass, Phillips, Christie.
Subs: Armstrong (for McGregor 68), Russell (for Phillips 77), McGinn (for Christie 87).
Subs not used: McLaughlin, MacGillivray, Forrest, McBurnie, Fraser, Bates, Devlin, Taylor.
Belgium: Courtois, Alderweireld, Vermaelen, Vertonghen, Dendoncker, De Bruyne, Tielemans, Lukaku, Mertens, Meunier, Chadli.
Subs: Carrasco (for Chadli 77), Verschaeren (for Tielemans 87), Raman (for Meunier 89).
Subs not used: Mignolet, Sels, Vanaken, Origi, Januzaj, Praet, Benteke, Batshuayi.