Kevin De Bruyne delivered a masterclass as Scotland suffered a sobering 4-0 Euro 2020 qualifying loss at home to Group I leaders Belgium.
Scotland’s bid for automatic qualification to Euro 2020 is all but over after they were outclassed by a Kevin De Bruyne-inspired Belgium, who ran out 4-0 victors at Hampden Park.
The Manchester City midfielder made goals for Romelu Lukaku, Thomas Vermaelen and Toby Alderweireld in the first half before claiming a deserved one of his own late on as the Group I leaders ran riot against Steve Clarke’s team.
Scotland are at least guaranteed a place in the play-offs in March after winning their Nations League group, but there is much work for new boss Clarke to do before then.
Belgium, meanwhile, lived up to their status as the number-one side in the FIFA rankings as they maintained their 100 per cent record in the group.
Clarke made four changes to the team beaten by Russia on Friday and his side began purposefully only to find themselves behind within nine minutes following a devastating demonstration of counter-attacking at its best from the visitors.
Dries Mertens set De Bruyne away down the left channel and he drove towards goal before picking out the onrushing Lukaku at the far post and, with time and space to compose himself, the Inter Milan forward made no mistake.
— Belgian Red Devils (@BelRedDevils) September 9, 2019
It was next the turn of another Belgium defender, Alderweireld, to make it three eight minutes later when he took advantage of slack marking to head De Bruyne’s cross in off the underside of the crossbar, capping a disastrous first half for the home side.
It was still Roberto Martinez’s team who looked the more likely to add to their advantage, with De Bruyne and Alderweireld spurning chances before the former got the goal his efforts deserved, curling in with eight minutes left after being found by Lukaku.
What does it mean? Belgium virtually assured of top-two finish
A comfortable victory at Hampden Park left Belgium with six wins from six and on course for a top-two finish.
Scotland, above only San Marino in the six-team group, know they at least have the cushion of the play-offs.
De Bruyne back to his best
His performances so far this season for Manchester City have already suggested De Bruyne is returning to the peak of his powers and there was yet further evidence here in what was a world-class display from the Belgium international, who provided three assists in the first half alone before scoring a deserved goal.
Lacklustre defending a real concern for Clarke
Losing to the world’s number-one ranked team is no disgrace, but what will have infuriated Clarke is the ease with which his Scotland side gave goals away. They lacked defensive discipline, failing to track runners and allowing their opponents too much space from set-pieces.
Key Opta facts
– Scotland have lost three consecutive competitive games for the first time since March 2013 (four in a row).
– Under Martinez, Belgium have won all five of their matches against British sides by an aggregate score of 14-0.
– Vermaelen scored only his second international goal for Belgium and first since November 2009 versus Hungary – 3586 days ago.
– De Bruyne has had a direct hand in seven goals in just four games versus Scotland (two goals, five assists).
– Lukaku has scored four goals in his three international appearances against Scotland, finding the net with four of his six shots on target.
Scotland travel to Russia next month and a second-half caution for a challenge on Mertens means Scott McTominay will be suspended for that game. Belgium host Group I’s bottom side San Marino.