Aidan Smith: Belgium showed they were anything but boring against hapless Scotland

Kevin De Bruyne caused Scotland an abundance of pain. Picture: SNS
Kevin De Bruyne caused Scotland an abundance of pain. Picture: SNS
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Their country is often pilloried for being the dullest on the planet. Google “Belgium + world’s most boring” and nearly 9 million results come back.

Last year John Cleese railed against the “lazy, fat, beer-sodden, pseudo-French Belgian bastards” who weren’t falling about the aisles when he performed there. Meanwhile the Book of Belgian Rib-Ticklers is the heftiest on joke-shop shelves.

But on the football field Belgium are having the last laugh. From nowhere - well, from being the team who supplied the stooges in a famous photograph illustrating the dribbling brilliance of Diego Maradona - they have become the best in the world.

And last night they could afford to turn up at Hampden without Eden Hazard, his brother Thorgan and cousins Serious and Deadly and still put the fear of God into poor Scotland.

For they had Kevin De Bruyne who if he stays fit this season can surely drive Manchester City to another title and they had Romelu Lukaku, an absolute monster of a striker.

This is a player who Manchester United decided didn’t love anymore, if they ever really did. But what do these Red Devils know? The Red Devils of Belgium trust a frontman who was seeking international goals number 49 and 50.

What a shame Hampden was only half-full. Those who stayed away missed such collector’s items as an astonishing piece of De Bruyne miscontrol, although the captain retrieved the ball immediately.

Right away there were turbo-charged bursts of pace from him and also Nacer Chadli which made you think the World Cup semi-finalists were taking this supposed formality of a fixture seriously. But also some slovenliness mainly from Dries Mertens which gave you hope that they weren’t.

In a threatening position Mertens elected to turn and fire the ball right back to his defenders. Maybe he was concerned that Stephen O’Donnell of KIlmarnock was moving onto him.

But just as Scotland seemed to be playing their way into the game, just as the depleted ranks of the Tartan Army were daring to look, Mertens got his act together and released De Bruyne on a rampage down the left. The latter’s pass inside was precision and Lukaku did what he does, at least for Belgium.

Fifa’s top-rankers had actually broken from a Scotland corner. Observers were undecided as to whether Lukaku had gobbled up 50 yards in six seconds or five. Too slow? Too cumbersome? Not at Mount Florida he wasn’t.

Do Man U miss him? There have been times when commentators have felt the need to point out that his old team were still instinctively firing balls to the exact spot on the pitch where he used to lurk. De Bruyne, though, is keenly aware of his movement, as is Lukaku of the playmaker’s surges.

This wasn’t a double-act of irresistible force and immovable object for Lukaku can shift. He’s also able to pirouette when required and a turn and flick to set De Bruyne on another charge was delicious. The visitors were already two-nil ahead and when that move led to a corner, the third goal arrived. How many more would there be? That seemed entirely up to Belgium.

Three months ago when they hosted Scotland in Group I Lukaku was “not happy”, according to coach Roberto Martinez. So how did his Man U-themed moroseness manifest itself? Oh, with just the two goals. The same return last night would have brought the half-century but after a spirited start to the second half by Scotland, with captain Andy Robertson showing the way, Lukuka seemed more likely to be provider. From the centre-circle he set off on a barrelling run, barging past his old clubmate Scott McTominay and setting up De Bruyne who narrowly failed to make it four.

Who are we to chortle at Belgium, the country, anyway when politically we’re a world-class joke? A mad, ranting Brexiteer will tell you that Brussels, the cradle of the European Union, is a dreadful place seeking to undermine the British way of life through being drunk on power and mad for bureaucracy, even pronouncing on the curvature of bananas.

Sensible folk know this to be a complete myth. The Scottish defence meanwhile had to be wary of the curvature achieved by De Bruyne’s left foot. Just after Lukaku had caused yet more panic in the Scottish defence, almost forcing Robertson to put through his own net, the towering target-man found himself on the edge of the box with that 50th very much in his sights. Instead he smoothed a pass to De Bruyne whose finish whistled past David Marshall.

That milestone goal will definitely come. On a night of little consolation for Scotland and the few fans who remained at the end, it wasn’t last night.