Belgium dished out a first-half masterclass at Hampden to defeat Scotland 4-0 in European Championship qualifying group I.
Story of the match
Despite an encouraging opening salvo from the home side, Belgium took the lead with their first attack on nine minutes, after Dries Mertens and Kevin de Bruyne combined to set up Romelu Lukaku for the finish.
De Bruyne pulls the strings
After Lukaku passed up a chance from a further exquisite De Bruyne pass, the away side doubled their lead after Thomas Vermaelen took advantage of De Bruyne’s crossing ability, finishing high into the roof of the net.
With barely half-an-hour on the clock, a corner from De Bruyne was headed in off the bar by Toby Alderwiereld to effectively end the game. Some muted booing from the home crowd at half-time suggested anger at their own team’s performance, while also recognising they were playing a side in a completely different league.
For the Scots? An encouraging first 10 minutes and a Matt Phillips half-chance were all they could muster in the first half, while an admittedly far more even second period may have had much to do with Belgium taking their foot off the pedal. Andy Robertson hit the byline, Stephen O'Donnell did well to burst into the box before being booked for diving, and Ryan Christie looked tidy throughout. None of this should distract from the fact that they were outclassed, however.
Despite Belgium playing the second half at near half pace, David Marshall was called upon to produce a superb save from Mertens, De Bruyne was uncharacteristically wasteful in front of goal, and Lukaku was wrongly flagged offside when clean through. De Bruyne’s fourth 10 minutes before the end only gave the score a more realistic tint.
Another hugely disappointing night for Scotland, although few will be surprised if they turn out to have tonight been playing the eventual winners of this tournament.
Takeaways from the match
Scots continually weak in key areas
It’s not all doom and gloom for Scotland. Two or three of the midfield are potentially of genuine international class, Kieran Tierney will soon return, 18-year-old Billy Gilmour has just made his debut for Chelsea, and Andy Robertson is arguably the best left-back in the world. They have some decent players. What they don’t currently have is a half-decent striker or anything approaching a defensive unit. Despite De Bruyne’s brilliance, all three first-half goals were defensively poor. Without Leigh Griffiths (at best an average striker by international standards), they have nothing in front of goal at all. If the defenders aren’t defending and the strikers aren’t striking, don’t expect Scotland to move up the rankings any time soon.
Just how good is Kevin De Bruyne?
We of course by now know just how good he is - Kevin De Bruyne is obviously a genius. The question here is where does he rank in the ‘best of the rest’ stakes behind Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in world football? Take out the top two, and we’re left with the likes of Neymar, Kylian Mbappé, Luka Modric, Virgil van Dijk and Mohamed Salah to compete with the Belgium and Man City midfielder. While it’s always hugely problematic comparing players in different positions, it’s difficult to make a case for any of them being above De Bruyne. Surely approaching his peak at 28, and with Messi, Ronaldo and last season’s winner Modric all the wrong side of 30, a Ballon d’Or may not be out of the question over the next few seasons for the brilliant Belgian.
Man of the match - Kevin De Bruyne
Absolutely no contest. De Bruyne ran the park tonight with another world-class display, producing three assists and a goal. The standout player in arguably the best international team in Europe, De Bruyne will surely be looking for an international trophy to cap his career. After a decent but by his standards unspectacular World Cup last year, he may see next summer’s European Championships as his best chance. Few would be surprised if it comes to pass.