Scotland managed to avoid falling to their worst ever-home defeat last night. That was the sole positive to take from a football lesson.
The last dress rehearsal before the real action begins again saw Scotland fluff their lines badly. The crowd was sparse enough but even fewer saw Belgium extend their lead to 2-0 with a goal from Eden Hazard just 49 seconds into the second-half. It then went from bad to worse. “This is getting out of hand,” tweeted the official Belgium account.
Many fans were still returning to their seats after half-time and missed Eden Hazard’s powerful shot into the roof of Craig Gordon’s net.
The applause from all around the stadium which greeted the Chelsea playmaker’s departure after 56 minutes was a combination of relief as well as admiration. He had treated Hampden to a virtuoso performance. His poise and vision were a joy to behold.
It was Michy Batshuayi, on loan at Valencia from Chelsea, who actually inflicted the most damage. A half-time substitute, he had helped himself to a brace, his ninth and tenth goals for his country, before the hour mark and Scotland were staring at the prospect of a record home defeat to rival the 5-0s inflicted by England in 1888 and 1973.
Romelu Lukaku had opened the scoring with a tap-in after 28 minutes.
Scotland don’t make it easy for themselves. After arduous excursions to Peru and Mexico they returned home to play a side who finished third in the recent World Cup. Some of their stars were absent last night but not enough of them.
Scotland have little time to ponder where they go from here. Albania are due in town on Monday night to hopefully provide McLeish with his first straightforward assignment in his second spell in charge.
This was a far from ideal warm-up. Craig Gordon was chosen to start, meaning Allan McGregor will come in for the Nations League encounter. It proved a fool’s errand as far as Gordon was concerned.
The golden thread combination of Andy Robertson and Kieran Tierney, at left wing back and left centre half respectively, were mostly required to double up on onrushing Belgians. This was never likely to be a night where Scotland could express themselves.
Leigh Griffiths v Vincent Kompany, debutant John Souttar up against not just one Hazard but two in Eden and Thorgan. There were potential mismatches in some critical parts of the pitch. Griffiths only lasted the half before being replaced by Steven Naismith, who failed to convert Scotland’s best chance when he allowed Thibaut Courtois to make an all-too-comfortable save from Callum McGregor’s cross after 64 minutes. By then Scotland were already four down and willing the final whistle to sound. Emphasising the anodyne nature of the atmosphere was the fact Celtic player Dedryck Boyata’s first touches received little or no recognition in the form of booing from the Tartan Army. They cottoned on eventually but this was a game stripped of any edge and played out against a backdrop of murmurs. “Nothing Matters More” is the new SFA slogan. Other activities such as going to the pub did last night.
For those who made their way to Hampden, for possibly one of the last times to see Scotland, it was poor fare. Belgium did what they had to do to keep the Scots at bay. Their comfort was not reflected in the single goal they scored in the first half.
The goal which separated the sides after 45 minutes was a desperately poor affair from a Scotland point of view.
Gordon chose to throw the ball out to John McGinn 25 yards from goal. He took a heavy first touch and had the ball swept from him by an alert Mousa Dembele. Thorgan Hazard took possession and squared for Lukaku, who had an easy task to steady himself and slot the ball in with Gordon grounded.
Tierney had made a goal-saving intervention a minute earlier to deny the Manchester United striker but Lukaku’s strike was only slightly delayed.
Scotland barely got to glimpse Courtois’ goal in the opening half. McGinn did have one speculative effort that almost led to embarrassment for the Real Madrid goalkeeper, who retrieved the ball after he had fumbled it behind him.
It was one of very few reminders that the opposition were fallible.
The game was gone as far as Scotland were concerned just after half-time when Hazard rocketed a shot past Gordon from a tight angle after more dazzling footwork.
Batshuayi, pictured inset, then took over. Mulgrew’s poor clearance was picked up by Dembele and transferred to Eden Hazard, who fed the tall striker. He made no mistake with a left-footed first-time effort. It was now becoming difficult to watch. Scotland were rattled. Ryan Jack was robbed in possession by Youri Tielemans with Batshuayi again on hand to finish – this time sending a right footed shot from 18 yards inside Gordon’s right-hand post.