Kevin de Bruyne inspired Belgium to a brutal defeat of hapless Scotland to all but end hopes of reaching Euro 2020 via their qualification group.
The Manchester City man set up Romelu Lukaku, Thomas Vermaelen and Toby Alderweireld and netted the fourth.
Steve Clarke’s side must now look to next year’s play-offs as their best hope of ending a 22-year wait for an appearance at a major finals.
Victory made it six wins from six for Roberto Martinez’s Group I leaders.
In truth, it could have been far worse for Scotland against the world’s number one ranked side at Hampden, who played well within themselves.
Scotland, in fifth, now trail Russia by nine points and Belgium by 12 with four games to go.
Supernatural De Bruyne brilliance & desperate weakness
After the chastening 2-1 loss at home to Russia on Friday came this evisceration by Belgium – an Eden Hazard-less Belgium at that. Who needs the Real Madrid man when you already have the supernatural brilliance of De Bruyne on top of desperate weakness from the home team, whose defence was paper-bag thin, with all due apologies to paper bags?
Scotland, with Kenny McLean, Ryan Christie, Robert Snodgrass and Matt Phillips coming in for John McGinn, Ryan Fraser, James Forrest and Oli McBurnie, had a few early minutes of optimism and then a harrowing night thereafter, the horror show beginning when they conceded the first goal after just nine minutes. The Scots got done on the counter attack. In leaving themselves so open they were were unbelievably naive and utterly reckless. Incompetence on an international scale.
From the edge of their own box, Belgium went like the clappers after regaining possession from a Snodgrass free-kick, Dries Mertens peeling away and finding De Bruyne who was running free up the left. He had time and space and far, far too much excellence for the scrambling Scottish defence. He simply looked up, picked out Lukaku who had strolled in on goal all on his lonesome and the Internazionale striker did the rest.
The whole thing – from Mertens to De Bruyne to Lukaku to the back of Dave Marshall’s net – took 14 seconds. It was Lukaku’s 49th goal for his country. He could have had his 50th nine minutes later when De Bruyne – who else? – dinked a gorgeous ball into him. Lukaku failed to clip it past Marshall.
A second Belgium goal was not long in coming. Once again it was De Bruyne who created it, this time with a cross from the right which was poked home by Vermaelen. Scotland, a disorganised mess at the back, failed to pick him up. What gargantuan problems Clarke has in trying to create something resembling a defence worthy of the name.
Phillips tested Thibaut Courtois but a shell-shocked Hampden sunk ever deeper into despair when Belgium struck again just after the half-hour mark. It was another avoidable goal, a free header from a De Bruyne corner. Alderweireld got away from Charlie Mulgrew and thumped his effort in off the underside of Marshall’s crossbar.
Three goals and three De Bruyne assists. Belgium had scored 10 goals in two-and-a-half games against the Scots in a year. The thing about this latest hiding was they pulled it off without ever having to move out of second or third gear. They did not have to get anywhere near their best.
Marshall had to tip away a shot by Mertens and De Bruyne missed a great chance. Sandwiched in between was a forlorn dive from Stephen O’Donnell which brought the Scotland right-back a yellow card instead of the penalty he was looking for. Scott McTominay also went into the book and he will miss the trip to Russia next month, not that it matters. Scotland’s goose is well and truly cooked now.
There was a fourth for the Belgians, Lukaku being allowed to turn by some more comatose Scottish defending before finding the unplayable De Bruyne, who slotted a right-footed curler beyond Marshall to pile on the pain for what was left of the home crowd. Many of them had headed for home by then. One has to wonder how many of them will be back.
Man of the match – Kevin de Bruyne
A masterclass from the playmaker with his passing, pace, awareness and never ending ability to find space beguiling and bemusing Scotland in equal measure. A sumptuous finish late on provided the goal his performance richly deserved.
- Belgium have scored 16 goals without reply in their past six meetings with Scotland.
- Scotland have won just one of their past 14 games against Belgium (W1 D2 L11), a 2-0 Euro qualifier victory in October 1987.
- Steve Clarke has lost three of his first four matches in charge of Scotland.
- Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku has scored five goals in his three international appearances against Scotland.
- Under Roberto Martinez, Belgium have won all five of their matches against British sides by an aggregate score of 13-0.
- Scotland have kept two clean sheets in their past 10 games.