Steve Clarke has conceded that Scotland’s hopes of automatic qualification for Euro 2020 are over after a record 4-0 defeat against Belgium at Hampden.
It is the heaviest ever home loss suffered by Scotland in a qualifying campaign for a major tournament finals and leaves them languishing in second bottom place of Group I, nine points behind second-placed Russia with four games remaining.
Clarke, who has now suffered three defeats in his first four games as Scotland manager, admits his focus will now switch to trying to ensure his squad go into the Euro 2020 play-offs next March in a more positive mood. The play-off place is already guaranteed after Scotland won their Uefa Nations League group last year.
“The group is over in terms of qualification,” said Clarke. “What we have to do now, and we spoke about it after the game, is target third position. It doesn’t look very good where we are in the table just now.
“There are 12 points up for grabs between now and the end of this qualifying campaign and we need to make sure we finish third in the group. It’s good for us in terms of ranking and seedings and also if you finish third in the group, it’ll mean that we have performed well and won a few games and picked up points, which should give us confidence going into the play-off games in March.”
First half goals from Romelu Lukaku, Thomas Vermaelen and Toby Alderweireld put the Belgians in total command at Hampden. The world ranked number one side spent most of the second half in cruise control before the outstanding Kevin de Bruyne swept home a fourth eight minutes from time.
“First of all you have to address the result - 4-0 is not a good scoreline,” said Clarke. “We shot ourselves in the foot in the first half from our set play - 10 seconds later we were 1-0 down in the ninth minute.
“It was a decent nine minutes before that, we started on the front foot again and pressed well. Then from two attacking set plays, two corner kicks, we were heavily punished. One was a second phase, came back out and they scored.
“We spoke about it before the game that when you play a team of Belgium’s quality, who are capable of scoring from open play, it’s almost imperative you don’t concede from set plays.
“From three set plays, we found ourselves 3-0 down at half-time having played some good football in the first half. But it’s very difficult to try and sell positives when you lose 4-0 at home.
“If people look at certain aspects of the game, we tried to pass the ball and press a very good team. At times we got it right. You can’t ignore the scoreline and I’m not trying to avoid the scoreline but there were bits and moments in the game where I thought we looked like we could become a decent team given time to grow.”