John Souttar’s Scotland debut ended in disappointment as Belgium enjoyed a comfortable 4-0 friendly win at Hampden Park.
Perhaps predictably, Chelsea’s Eden Hazard dominated proceedings as the nation which finished third at this summer’s World Cup demonstrated the class that earned them such exalted status.
Promoted from his previous role as Scotland Under-21 captain, Souttar was being rewarded for months of dominant displays in the centre of the Hearts defence. He was not directly at fault for any goals, made some important clearances and could remain in the Scotland team for Monday’s Nations League tie with Albania.
Romelu Lukaku opened the scoring for Belgium in the first half before Hazard and substitute Michy Batshuayi – the latter with a double – put the result beyond doubt in the early stages of the second period. The Scotland manager Alex McLeish would have hoped for a better performance and a closer scoreline, but the chasm in standards was all too evident.
The hope now is that confidence levels are not damaged beyond repair before competitive action begins. The Scots remain some way off Belgium’s levels and played second fiddle for the majority of the match, particularly once the visitors went in front.
The major pre-match decision for McLeish centred around his goalkeeper. Torn between Celtic’s Craig Gordon and Allan McGregor of Rangers, he deployed Gordon this time with McGregor to start on Monday against Albania. Souttar lined up in on the right of a three-man defence alongside Charlie Mulgrew and Kieran Tierney.
If Scotland sought a morale boost ahead of the first competitive match of McLeish’s second reign, they picked the wrong opponents. Belgium arrived in Glasgow this morning and coach Roberto Martinez wasted no time naming a star-stacked line-up: Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Dries Mertens, Mousa Dembele, Vincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen, Thibaut Courtois. The list went on and on. Then there was Dedryck Boyata – a man with more than his fair share of headlines in Scotland recently.
Martinez guided the Belgians to third place at the World Cup finals in Russia just two months ago and the nation are clearly still riding the crest of that wave. This fixture was officially a friendly, but the intensity and quality of their passing combinations could only be admired. Thankfully, Scotland face opponents of a slightly lesser standard on Monday against Albania. However, crucially, they must also lift their own performance levels between now and then.
Gordon’s first task was to hold a 22-yard free-kick struck by the Napoli forward Mertens. That set-piece was won by Eden Hazard, the Belgian captain, whose speed and trickery set him apart from pretty much every other player on the Hampden pitch. His younger brother, Thorgan, played behind him at left wing-back. As if the Scottish defence weren’t busy enough contending with one Hazard.
Next on 17 minutes was another Mertens effort, this time a dipping shot after he had dropped off into a gap. Youri Tielemans tried his luck from distance but was also off target. Scotland’s first genuine attempt at goal came moments later as John McGinn scampered forward from midfield for a powerful 30-yard shot. Courtois needed two attempts to gather the ball.
Eden Hazard and Lukaku linked beautifully inside the Scottish penalty area and the Manchester United forward was about to dispatch his shot when Tierney intervened to clear.
Lukaku did find the net as the half-hour approached but this time the chance was gifted to him rather than carved out.
Gordon bowled the ball out to McGinn rather hurriedly, and the Aston Villa player was dispossessed by Dembele on the edge of his own penalty area. The Tottenham midfielder slipped a pass left to Thorgan Hazard, who squared for Lukaku to prod the ball home from five yards. It was a concession of Scotland’s own making and their frustration was obvious. McGinn tried to remedy the situation with another run and shot, only Courtois dealt with it comfortably.
The Belgians were finding their rhythm and Scotland were fortunate not to concede a penalty on 38 minutes when Gordon emerged from his goal to challenge Timothy Castagne. The keeper appeared to miss the ball and put his opponent up in the air before Souttar cleared. From the resultant corner, Kompany’s header clipped the top of the crossbar.
The goalframe rescued Scotland twice in quick succession before the break. From Castagne’s cross, Hazard’s header was superbly pushed on to the post by Gordon and Lukaku’s follow-up attempt struck the same upright. There was no doubt who was in command of this encounter when the half-time whistle sounded.
Belgium’s superiority was confirmed immediately after the restart when Eden Hazard took possession on the left of the Scottish penalty area and lashed a second goal high into the net with his left foot. McLeish had introduced the Hearts forward Steven Naismith for Leigh Griffiths at the break, only to see the deficit doubled before the change could have any impact.
Then it was three. There was no surprise seeing Hazard as the architect with a well-timed sliding pass to Batshuayi, who produced a composed low finish. He also claimed the fourth after Tielemans tacked Scotland substitute Ryan Jack in midfield. The challenge poked the ball through to Batshuayi and the Valencia striker’s lethal finish into the bottom corner left Gordon helpless.
By now, the travelling Belgian support were in full voice and yelling the famous “ole” shouts each time their side completed a pass. They also conducted a “conga” behind one of the Hampden stewards as he made his way down a passageway.
When Scotland did create openings, they were thwarted by the towering Courtois. On 64 minutes, Naismith’s first-time attempt from Callum McGregor’s low cross was beaten away by the Real Madrid keeper. Then, in the closing stages, he pushed Ryan Fraser’s curling right-footer for a corner. Johnny Russell’s first-time strike from Graeme Shinnie’s tee-up rebounded off Courtois’ legs.
The final period of the match was being played out at a slower tempo. A number of substitutions by both teams and Belgium easing off on the accelerator contributed to a quiet ending. There there would have been plenty relief in the home camp when the final whistle sounded.
Scotland (3-5-1-1): Gordon; Souttar, Mulgrew (O’Donnell 68), Tierney; Fraser, McGinn (Shinnie 73), McDonald (Snodgrass 53), Armstrong (Jack 53), Robertson; C McGregor (Russell 68); Griffiths (Naismith 46). Unused subs: A McGregor, Archer, Paterson, Forrest, McTominay.
Belgium (3-4-3): Courtois; Boyata, Kompany (Vermaelen 46), Vertonghen; Castagne (Meunier 46), Tielemans, Dembele (Verstraete 85), T Hazard; Mertens (Carrasco 46), Lukaku (Batshuayi 46), E Hazard (Vanaken 56). Unused subs: Sels, Casteels, Alderweireld, Witsel, Dendoncker, Trossard.
Referee: Luca Banti (Italy).