Belgium continued their electric start to Group I on Tuesday with a highly professional performance against Scotland to make it four wins from four as they remain on course to qualify for Euro 2020.
It was an enormous task that greeted Scotland at the enormous 50000 capacity King Baudouin Stadium on match four of this group. They hadn't beaten their hosts in their last six meetings and have failed to even score in the last five games dating back to 2001, conceding at least two goals in the process.
With several injuries and their new manager Steve Clarke still bedding into the role, the challenge was much greater.
The Red Devils are still licking their wounds following their humbling 5-2 defeat to Switzerland in November that saw them miss out on the UEFA Nations League but their impressive performances since have provided the perfect tonic for Roberto Martinez and his team who haven't lost a competitive qualifier in just under nine years.
A run consisting of twenty-four matches since their 1-0 defeat to Germany in September 2010.
Story of the match
Despite the gulf in class between these two sides, with Belgium being ranked first in the FIFA World Rankings compared to Scotland's place in forty-fourth in that particular table, if there was one thing on the visitor's side, it was that Steve Clarke knows how to make his teams difficult to beat.
It was a small piece of hope but it was something at least for a Scottish nation fearing another battering.
For example, Clarke had his Kilmarnock side in the Scottish Premiership punching above its weight and in eighteen matches against both Celtic and Rangers, he only lost six matches and won six himself. Granted, Belgium provide a much tougher test with the sheer quality in their side.
Eden Hazard's move to Real Madrid for 80 million was confirmed just a few days prior after all.
It didn't take long for the bronze medalists at the 2018 World Cup to flex their muscles. Thorgan Hazard, newly acquired by Bundesliga runners-up Borussia Dortmund, burst into the box from the left, leaving Stephen O'Donnell utterly bamboozled only for Romelu Lukaku's effort to be blocked by Scott McKenna.
If that early show of force was expected, the next attack wasn't as away side created a chance themselves. Oliver Burke, the hero of Saturday night, raced onto the ball in the box only to drag his effort wide when he perhaps could've done better.
Although Belgium were controlling possession and forcing their opponents back, Scotland did provide a hint of a threat on the break, especially with the pace of Burke which was something they previously hadn't displayed in their previous meetings in this fixture.
Belgium continued creating the chances though, this time it was Manchester City's Kevin de Bruyne firing a shot at goal that forced David Marshall into his first save.
The chances continued to flow for Belgium. Axel Witsel, back in Europe with Dortmund after a spell playing his football in China, had Marshall scrambling into another save but the Hull City goalkeeper could only watch moments later as de Bruyne seized on a mistake in the backline, shooting narrowly wide. A let-off for Scotland considering how often a team of this quality punish mistakes.
The rest of the half was pleasing for the Scots. Under intense pressure, of course, they were able to repel anything thrown at them with several key blocks in the box and a little help from Lukaku blocking his own shot with his standing foot just a couple of yards out but despite this, they just couldn't hold until half-time.
This performance was a refreshing change from a Scotland side away from home but it was also so typically Scottish to concede in the manner they did just before the break.
Eden Hazard cutting inside the box and forcing a block from the defence which sent the ball rolling towards the touchline... except, it didn't go out. Scott McTominay and his team-mates switched off, assuming the corner and paid the price as Hazard dinked the ball in for Lukaku to head beyond Marshall into the net.
The second half continued in the same vein, chances came and went for Witsel and Lukaku before de Bruyne's free-kick had Marshall moving again to tip the ball around the post.
The second goal would follow just before the hour with a shot from de Bruyne pushed away by the goalkeeper into the path of Lukaku for his second of the evening. The Tartan Army were left more than disappointed as the goal should've been called for offside but with no VAR in qualifying, the goal stood and Scotland's chances dissipated.
A couple of decent chances fell to Lukaku as the game progressed to earn his hat-trick but it was Scotland that should've found their way back into the game. An effort from Ryan Fraser saved by Thibaut Courtois preceded a chance for McKenna, inexplicably through on goal, his effort was saved by the Real Madrid goalkeeper before falling to James Forrest but the Celtic winger and star man in Nations League C couldn't get the ball out of his feet in time with the goal gaping.
This seemed to wake Belgium up a little as they ended the half strongly. Hazard and De Bruyne forced good saves from Marshall before the latter finally got his goal. Dries Mertens assisting for "KDB" from outside the box. The strike was so sweet into the corner that Marshall was rooted to the spot. It provided the icing to the cake on a comfortable night in Brussels.
This Belgium side doesn't need to rely on any single one man. They have bags of ability across the squad. Eden Hazard is the talisman for many but the likes of de Bruyne, Mertens and even Eden's brother Thorgan are all crucial cogs in this side but if you are looking for goals, then look no further than Manchester United's Romelu Lukaku.
The big striker has came under huge criticism from the other Red Devils he plays for after an underwhelming season and frustrating performances both individually and from his team but for some reason, he always seems to excel in the shirt of his country. His exploits on Tuesday made it twenty-one goals in his last twenty-five appearances for the national team and eight in his last six.
He had his frustrating moments in this match too, not least when he blocked his own goalbound shot from two yards out with his standing foot, but forty-eight goals in eighty-one appearances is an outstanding achievement and proves just how important Lukaku is to his side.
If there were reasons to be cheerful for Scotland after their victory over Cyprus last weekend, then this match tonight provides even more reason to be so. It seems odd considering the damaging defeat but for those that have followed the Scottish national side over the last decade, there is lots of room for optimism again under Steve Clarke.
The team were unimpressive against Cyprus but showed great resolve to dig out a result when they previously wouldn't have done so and their defensive performance for forty-four minutes in Brussels was excellent, denying the Belgians several times, albeit with some luck on their side too. The concession of the opening goal and the manner it came was disappointing but the team didn't play badly, they were just beaten by a far superior side and given the last few times they have played Belgium they have been beaten without so much as a whimper, this was encouraging going forward.
Scotland should've even had a goal in this match too at the end. It will be the matches against Russia that decide this qualifying group, although anything picked up in the de-facto capital of Europe would've helped, and they have every reason to believe they can get the points required to finish in the top two.
Unsurprisingly, several Belgian players stood out on the night. Eden Hazard was a livewire throughout and it is against players of less quality that you really see just how good that the former Chelsea man is. His ability to leave players standing as he dribbles beyond them, desperate legs outstretched, before creating a chance or having a shot at goal is excellent and he provided the opening goal by staying alert and skilfully delivering for Lukaku on the cusp of half-time.
Speaking of Lukaku, he helped himself to two goals and his presence was a constant menace for the Scottish defence. He could have done better more than once but it is his goals that made it an easy night in the end. Kevin de Bruyne was also on the scoresheet and deservedly so after a hard-working performance during the ninety minutes.
Scotland deserve credit for their defensive display for much of the game but especially in the first half. They frustrated Belgium for the majority of it and only let their concentration slip at the end. They created some chances too with Ryan Fraser showing good determination in creating an opening for himself and forcing a save from Courtois too.
So this was not a miracle performance for Scotland in this old stadium named after the fifth King of Belgium. In the end, it was the Red Devils that were the Kings on the night as they took a step closer to qualification for Euro 2020.