If Steve Clarke is looking for a crumb of comfort ahead of tonight’s match in Brussels against Belgium’s Red Devils, perhaps it could be this:
As long as he holds the position of Scotland Head Coach, it is unlikely he will face as daunting a test as the one which awaits his team in the King Baudouin Stadium.
After edging out Cyprus 2-1 at Hampden on Saturday night, Scotland arrive in Belgium to play the #1 ranked team in the world. Here’s the preview:
Where were we?
For a minute or two on Saturday it looked like Steve Clarke’s reign was going to get off to a nightmare start. Cyprus had equalised with 4 minutes to play, a scenario that would have “shredded” Scotland’s hopes of qualifying from this group according to Tom English on BBC Radio. He was probably right.
Scotland rallied quickly and within a couple of minutes Oliver Burke had netted his first international goal to seal three priceless points, lift Scotland to 3rd in the group level on points with Russia. Russia’s 9 goal demolition of San Marino seeing them stay ahead on goal difference.
Record v Belgium
Played 18, won 4, drawn 3, lost 11.
Scotland are currently on a 4-game losing run against Belgium, conceding 10 and scoring 0 in that period. Scotland’s last positive result coming in a World Cup qualifier in 2001 when a stoppage time Daniel Van Buyten goal snatched a point at Hampden in a 2-2 draw. Incidentally, Scotland had led 2-0 in that game thanks to a Billy Dodds brace.
Scotland’s last win over Belgium came in 1987 under Andy Roxburgh when goals from Ally McCoist and Paul McStay were enough for a 2-0 win at Hampden.
The depth of talent in Belgium’s ranks is truly frightening. In every position they have players who would be in the conversation for a World XI: Courtois, Alderweireld, De Bruyne and Hazard are among the brightest stars in a constellation of them.
At the weekend they cast Kazakhstan aside 3-0 with goals from Mertens, Castagne and Lukaku making it three wins from three in the group. That was also their 17th game unbeaten at home.
When a player like Youri Tielemans can ride the bench for Belgium after such an impressive loan spell with Leicester City in the EPL it gives an indication of the scale of the challenge facing Scotland.
While no-one in the Scotland camp would describe this game as a ‘free hit’, it undeniably is. In this qualification process it is unlikely any team will go to Belgium and take anything.
In saying that, Steve Clarke has shown throughout his career he can set a team up to frustrate a fancied opponent. You can look at Kilmarnock’s record against Celtic & Rangers in the last two seasons to see that.
Watching Scotland against Cyprus, especially in the first half, you could be forgiven for thinking you were watching a dress rehearsal for Brussels. In isolation, it would be surprising to see Scotland set up with a low, compact block at home to Cyprus while looking to spring quick counters in transition.
This is exactly a system that could get some success against Belgium should their wing backs Castagne & Thorgan Hazard push high up the pitch. Ryan Fraser was able to show flashes of his pace to get behind the Cyprus defence on Saturday, he should have a lot more space to work with tonight.
With Fraser, Forrest, McGregor and Burke (should he start), this Scotland side are blessed with real pace. If Scotland can stay tight and disciplined at the back, they could fire clearances down the channels for their jet heeled wingers to chase down. Ikechi Anya’s goal in Dortmund against Germany provides the template for what could be possible against a Belgium side who will surely set up high up the pitch.
Predicted Score – Belgium 3-1 Scotland (Fraser)
Elsewhere in Group I on Matchday 4: Russia v Cyprus Kazakhstan v San Marino
Scotland will be hoping for a favour from Cyprus in Russia to keep within touching distance ahead of Scotland’s next game, welcoming Russia to Hampden in September for what will be a crucial match in the campaign.