Belgium 2 - 0 Scotland: Belgium’s devastating burst leaves Scotland on the floor
AGAINST a Belgian team that lived up to the hype, which has many proclaiming them as genuine 2014 World Cup contenders, Scotland were put firmly in their place on an evening that may constitute just one setback too many for manager Craig Levein.
Scorers: Belgium - Benteke (69), Kompany (71)
Bookings: Belgium - Chadli; Scotland - McGregor
While there is no shame in losing to the undeniably gifted and often electrifying opponents they faced ltonight, Scotland’s latest defeat under Levein has to be viewed in the context of his overall tenure.
It is one that has now yielded just 13 points from a possible 34 in qualifying matches, with Scotland’s hopes of making it to Brazil in two years’ time now in tatters. They sit forlornly at the bottom of Group A this morning, already a yawning eight points behind pacesetters Belgium and Croatia with just six games remaining.
It leaves the SFA office bearers with a decision they cannot shirk from this week. Whether they still back Levein’s conviction that he is the right man for the job in the longer term, or if they agree with increasingly widespread public opinion that his time is up, they must make their choice.
Tonight simply provided the most graphic illustration of how far behind the elite international teams Scotland remain, despite Levein’s constant insistence of progress being made during his tenure. The long exile from major tournament finals, stretching back to 1998, seems to have no end in sight.
If many of the visiting fans already carried a sense of foreboding before kick-off, Belgium’s jet-propelled start to the match could only have deepened those fears. While the Scots were hesitant and almost leaden-footed at times, the home side immediately exerted dominance of possession and set a fierce tempo that could easily have seen them out of sight inside the opening ten minutes.
Levein was indebted to the heroics of Allan McGregor for the scoreline somehow remaining blank during that period. With Belgium dragging the Scottish midfield and defence out of position all over the pitch with their intelligent movement and tremendous pace, McGregor defied them with a series of terrific saves.
The Scotland goalkeeper was first called into action in the second minute when slack work from Gary Caldwell presented Dries Mertens with a clear sight of goal on the left side of the penalty area. The PSV Eindhoven midfielder saw his first shot blocked by McGregor and was then unable to find a way past him again from the follow-up.
It was a major let-off for the Scots and there were more to follow as Belgium failed to capitalise on their dominance. Nacer Chadli, a tormenting presence down the left flank, burst clear onto Axel Witsel’s threaded pass and drew another sharp save from McGregor. The under-siege ‘keeper repelled Chadli again almost immediately, this time with a brave save at his feet as Scotland’s defence were shredded once more.
Scotland were simply being overrun in midfield where the interchanging and technical ability of the Belgians, even without playmaker Eden Hazard in the starting line-up, would be a delight to behold for anyone without Caledonian sympathies.
The flaw in Belgium’s work, mercifully for Levein, was the standard of their finishing. When McGregor’s early mask of invincibility slipped in the 22nd minute as he fumbled a cross from attacking right-back Toby Alderweireld, Chadli should have punished the error but could only miscue his effort at the back post, allowing Scotland to scramble the ball clear.
With Steven Fletcher isolated up front, Scotland carried a negligible attacking threat of their own as they struggled to secure any meaningful possession. But they almost snatched the lead in spectacular fashion in the 24th minute. Kris Commons earned a free-kick about 25 yards out when he was nudged from behind by Moussa Dembele. It may have been a soft award, but Shaun Maloney came close to making the most of it as his brilliantly struck set piece was clawed behind by Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
As if affronted by the sudden danger Scotland had posed, Belgium rapidly responded with more vigorous and fluent work in and around the visiting penalty area. The ubiquitous Chadli flashed a 22-yard shot narrowly wide after Danny Fox had cheaply surrendered possession, then Dembele came just as close with a long-range strike that
McGregor was relieved to see flash beyond his left hand post.
It was little short of remarkable that half-time arrived with the scoreline still blank. If it had been an act of escapology from Scotland’s perspective, they again came close to plundering the first goal themselves three minutes from the interval. It was from another free-kick, Maloney teasing a foul from Dembele in a dangerous position after Steven Fletcher had led a counter attack. Commons took the set piece responsibility this time and bent the ball around the Belgian defensive wall, forcing Courtois into another excellent save as he dived low to his right to divert the ball wide.
Belgian coach Wilmots decided the introduction of Hazard was required at the start of the second half, the Chelsea man replacing Dembele and providing Scotland with another elusive midfield talent to try and pin down. Levein also made a substitution, sending on Jamie Mackie for Commons.
The general pattern of play remained unaltered, Belgium weaving pretty patterns as they largely kept the Scots on the back foot. Yet still they encountered frustration in and around the penalty area.
Christian Benteke came agonisingly close to making the breakthrough for the hosts just two minutes after the resumption when he beat Caldwell in the air to meet an Alderweireld cross from the right at the far post, the big Aston Villa striker heading against the crossbar with McGregor beaten.
McGregor’s goal continued to enjoy a charmed existence when Hazard made his first telling impact on proceedings, his low shot from the edge of the penalty area blocked on the line by Caldwell.
Wilmots made a second change, replacing Mertens with Everton midfielder Kevin Mirallas as he searched for the formula to turn his team’s emphatic superiority into goals. But before they came, there was another hint of a chance for Scotland when only a last-ditch touch from Jan Vertonghen denied Mackie what would have been a back post tap-in from Fox’s low cross from the left.
It proved to be no more than illusory encouragement for a Scotland support starting to believe this might just be a night when their team could claim a smash-and-grab victory.
Belgium ensured all three points would be theirs with the devastating burst of two goals in the space of three minutes, which shattered Scotland. The 69th minute opener came as the Scots failed to react smartly enough to a Belgian short corner routine on the left.
De Bruyne worked space to float the ball to the back post where Benteke rose to power a close range header beyond
Before Scotland could even try to respond, they found themselves 2-0 down. Hazard’s pass found Kompany in space on the right side of the penalty area and the elegant Belgian captain sent a rasping right foot shot, with very little back lift, into the roof of the net.
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Thursday 23 May 2013
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