Marouane Fellaini was all smiles after Scotland’s shock win against Croatia sent Belgium rocketing to the top of World Cup qualifying Group A.
But, after Gordon Strachan’s side followed that result with a storming performance to twice take the lead against England at Wembley, the big midfielder has suddenly gone quiet.
And tonight Steven Naismith is hoping to have the last laugh against a man he called a team-mate at Everton until his £27.5 million move to Manchester United on transfer deadline day, a fee which took the valuation of the squad Scotland face at Hampden to an eye-watering £255m.
For as much as Fellaini enjoyed the Scots’ unexpected win in Zagreb, Naismith believes the Belgians are quietly worried that the same fate may befall them, despite their tag as red-hot favourites not only to emerge victorious in Glasgow but to book their place in Rio next summer.
Naismith said: “To be honest, Marouane has not been saying too much about it. Our result in Croatia helped them out, so he was happy about that. With them and Croatia so tight, our win in Zagreb was a result they did not expect.
“It’s an interesting battle at the top of the group and we obviously threw a spanner in the works, but after our game against England, I noticed all he wanted to talk about was the fans, how many of them travelled and the nose they made throughout the match.
“He has been asking if there will be a good atmosphere and stuff like that, while I’ve told him we can do the same against them. Hopefully we will.”
For Scotland, an awful start to the qualifying campaign under Craig Levein quickly wrecked any hopes of making the finals of a major tournament for the first time since 1998, leaving the remaining games more a case of how much harm Strachan’s stars can do others than any good they can do themselves.
“That’s exactly what it is,” agreed Naismith, “To show how good we can be and hammer other people’s chances. I think the result in Croatia will have made the Belgians sit up and take notice of us and realise it’s not going to be as easy a game as they might have thought.”
Nevertheless, it remains a monumental challenge for the Scots, currently placed 50th in FIFA’s rankings as opposed to Belgium being tenth, a disparity confirmed as two goals in as many minutes from Aston Villa’s Christian Benteke and Manchester City skipper Vincent Kompany earned the Belgians a 2-0 win in Brussels last October – a result which rubber-stamped the demise of Craig Levein.
Kompany will be missing this time round through injury, but his absence will, in Naismith’s estimation, mean little. The former Kilmarnock and Rangers player said: “We will have to be at our best, there is no doubt about that because they have real quality in their squad. There are a lot of Belgians such as Marouane moving for big money to top clubs, so we need to be at our best and hopefully the fans can get behind us again and push us on to a good result.
“Vincent Kompany is going to be a miss for them, but they will have a good replacement. My Everton team-mate Kevin Mirallas, for example, is a quality player and he is not in their team every time. That shows you the quality they have, especially from middle to front.
“They are a group of younger guys who have all come through at the same time. There might be a couple of them making all of the headlines, but within that group they are all good quality. I fancy them to make it through to the World Cup, one way or the other. And when they get there I think they will definitely take a few scalps.”
Strachan will, of course, be concentrating on the strengths of his side and, to that end, Naismith believes the Scotland squad is showing a steady evolution, with tonight’s match offering the chance to build further momentum following those performances against Croatia and England – with the importance of producing a similarly home impressive display not lost on him or his players.
That, he insisted, will ensure he and his team-mates approach tonight’s match in determined fashion rather than looking at it as the dead rubber it is in terms of qualification.
He said: “That’s something the manager has done very well since he came in. There wasn’t much to play for when he took over in the Croatia game. No-one gave us a chance, and we didn’t really have anything to play for in terms of points to qualify but we got a great result.
“There is momentum. Apart from the result against England and the set plays, it was a great performance to match the one in Croatia.
“The squad is not drastically changing, but there are changes. These guys are coming in wanting to show they are good enough. Everyone involved wants to play. The squad has got great quality and there are probably more players playing in the English Premier League than there ever has been in a Scotland team.
“A lot of the boys are playing every week in one of the best leagues in the world against the best players, so they are getting experience from that. I don’t think the manager has had to change the squad too much, it’s just tweaking little things here and there.
“One of the biggest changes he has brought is taking away from the tactics and the opposition. It’s about us going together and pushing each other that extra ten per cent that makes the difference.
“Results are a big thing. When you start winning and believing it makes everything that bit easier. There are maybe a couple of area that don’t have as much competition as others, but on the whole it is a very strong squad and I think the manager sees that. He is a great man-manager and knows how to get the best out of the boys.
“It’s been a while since we had a win at home, there’s been a few hard luck stories at Hampden recently. It would be nice to have a great night for everyone to come away thinking that was a great game to watch and we got the result at the end of it.
“A good result would give us a bit of momentum going into Tuesday’s match in Macedonia. The bigger picture, though, is that we have had two really good performances so we have to build on that against Belgium. I’m sure the manager will be pushing for that.”