BELGIUM didn’t just hand out a beating to Scotland at Hampden the other night.
The visiting players had some honeyed words for their vanquished opponents, with Marouane Fellaini reflecting on the path his country have plotted from also-rans to one of the expected dark horses for the World Cup in Brazil next summer.
“We hope we can make an impact in Brazil,” he said after the 2-0 win in Glasgow that has put Marc Wilmots side five points ahead of Croatia with two games of Group A left. “We have worked for a long time now for this, so it is important to be at the World Cup and to do something once we are there. Eight years ago Belgium had no chance to reach the finals. Now we have great players, a great generation and we are enjoying this. As well as that, we also have great players coming through in our under-21 squad so I think that Belgium will have a very good team for the next ten years.
“What must Scotland do? You need young players and a formation for them to play in. Look at the players in our team – some play in Spain, some in England, Germany and Holland. These are big football countries and that’s important. They have the right education.”
A Scot can at least be said to have played a vital role in the education of Fellaini. The midfielder last week moved to Manchester United in a £27.5 million deal. There he will come under the tutelage of David Moyes, who signed him for Everton from Standard Liege at the cost of £15m in September 2008. “Of course” Moyes improved him, Fellaini said of his Scottish mentor.
“I was 20 years old when he signed me for Everton, just a young guy. I learned a lot from him. He did everything for me. Now I have signed for Manchester United I hope to learn even more from him and to win something with my new club.
“I was pleased when David Moyes got the United job because he had worked hard for it. I’m happy for him and, because he signed me again, I’m happy for me as well.
“The last week has been crazy for me – that’s why I suffered from cramp at Hampden. But I’m very, very pleased. I didn’t know that he would try to buy me for United, although I was hoping that he would. But I also worked hard to get this chance. I have played in England for five years and now I am at Old Trafford.
“This is a good chance for him – and me – to win that first trophy, but we must work hard to achieve this.”
Gordon Strachan’s Scotland are working hard to pull themselves up from the foothills of international football. And, according to Belgian full-back Toby Alderweireld, who made a £5.9m move from Ajax to Atletico Madrid last week, their efforts are having some effect.
The player noted a “big difference” in the Scotland who lost 2-0 on Friday with the side who went down by the same scoreline in Belgium last year, in what proved Craig Levein’s final game in charge.
“There was more confidence and they played better football than the last game in Brussels,” he said. “But I think we were still the better team. For sure, there is an improvement in Scotland. I felt their confidence. The last time, I think they were a little bit afraid. Afraid to lose a lot of goals. Now, they are confident and enjoy playing in front of their own supporters.
“You have to keep working hard and believe in yourself, be confident. It’s the same for the youth players. They need to keep improving. It’s very important. They can achieve things if they believe.
“If Scotland keep improving like they have been and keep the confidence they’ve got, I don’t see any reason why they can’t make it to the European championships. But a lot always depends on what group you get. If you draw France and Spain it’s going to be difficult, but in another group, then why not?”
One reason why not was offered up by Tottenham midfielder Jan Vertonghen, for whom the London club paid Ajax £11m last year. “We watched a lot of videos of Scotland before this game and knew they were a good team,” the 26-year-old said. “But we have a lot of firepower up front, a lot of players who can score. I don’t think Scotland has that at the moment and it’s a problem for them.
“Scotland are a good team but, when you compare them to us, we have so many players who want to score. And we have a solid defence.”