Belgium’s National side are known as the ‘Red Devils’ and on Monday night at Hampden their players dragged the Tartan Army through at least four of the circles of hell, strolling to a 4-0 win led by Manchester City’s Kevin de Bruyne.
Here are the talking points the morning after a bruising night before:
A Re-Modelled Front End
Steve Clarke surprised some by making four changes, all at the top of the pitch. McGinn, Fraser, Forrest and McBurnie were left out and replaced by Kenny McLean, Robert Snodgrass, Ryan Christe and Matt Phillips. If the intention was to inject fresh legs and pace into Scotland’s attack after Friday night, for the first ten minutes it worked.
Scotland pressed high, winning the ball from the Belgians who seemed taken aback by Scotland’s front foot approach. The front four worked well together, zipping the ball from side to side and forcing a couple of corners. All was well.
We Need to Talk About Kevin
All was well until the 9th minute, a Scotland free kick in an attacking position was cleared as far as Mertens. He released de Bruyne down the left leaving Scotland hopelessly exposed. One pass later and Romelu Lukaku was celebrating.
At this stage, it’s only fair that we step back and applaud the performance of Kevin de Bruyne. He notched a goal and three assists last night in the best performance by an opponent at Hampden Park I can remember. The fact he did so while appearing like he has several gears to go up was frightening.
If there is one crumb of comfort Steve Clarke can take from last night it’s that between now and the Nation’s League Playoffs in March, we won’t face any opponent of KDB’s calibre.
Any Reasons to be Cheerful?
Belgium are the #1 ranked team in the world according to FIFA’s rankings and last night they looked every inch of that.
For Scotland, while this international break has returned 0 points, there are some positives to be taken forward through the remainder of the group stage matches and into the Playoffs.
Matt Phillips impressed on Monday, succeeding in winning the ball, holding it in and laying it off to team-mates. In truth, his compatriots were taking up positions closer to him than they did for Oli McBurnie on Friday. One of those team-mates was Ryan Christie who built on his cameo on Friday with an impressive performance, often taking the ball in-between the lines, turning and driving at the Belgian defence.
Armstrong, McGinn and Johnny Russell were given second half run-outs, presumably to give Steve Clarke a chance to assess them ahead of challenges to come.
Pull the Rip Cord Last night’s results leave Scotland nine points behind Russia with 12 points to play for in the group, effectively ending Scotland’s chances of automatic qualification. Anything less than a win from October’s trip to Moscow with arithmetically confirm that.
Therefore, all focus now can turn to the Nation’s League Playoffs in March. All that matters now is that Scotland are on form and firing ready for those crucial games. Come March all our players will be well into the season, hopefully negating some of the early season slackness witnessed against Russia on Friday.
The Playoff Picture You can find an in-depth look at the procedures for the Nation’s League Playoffs in the Belgium match preview here.
As a reminder, Scotland were due to play Finland in the semi-final, but they are on track to qualify automatically. If they avoid defeat in Bosnia next up, they’ll be almost there.
As it stands, their place will be taken by Bulgaria (bottom of England’s group with 0 wins from 5) or Israel (fifth in their group, although only 2pts behind Slovenia in the automatic qualification spot).
Should Scotland proceed, they would then face either Norway (who are 4th with a slim chance of qualifying) or Serbia (4th in their group and relying on Portugal dropping points to qualify).
Dates for your Diary
22/11/2019: European Qualifiers play-off draw
30/11/2019: UEFA EURO 2020 final tournament draw
26/03/2020: European Qualifiers play-off semi-finals (Scotland v Bulgaria / Israel)
31/03/2020: European Qualifiers play-off finals (Scotland v Norway / Serbia)
In true Jim Bowen ‘here’s what you could have won’, the Euro 2020 group stage draw takes place at the end of November, before the Playoffs have been resolved. Scotland fans will have to imagine seeing their name drawn into the group as I’d imagine a placeholder ‘Nation’s League Playoff C Winner’ will be used.