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Clarke: We can be decent team if given time to grow

Hurting: Robert Snodgrass (pic: SNS Group)

Scotland 0 Belgium 4

Group I, Hampden Park

Scotland had gone in to their clash with Belgium looking for a knockout blow to keep their hopes of automatic qualification alive but failed to lay a glove on the visitors.

It was always going to be tough against the team ranked No. 1 in the world but with Kevin de Bruyne pulling the strings in midfield, the home side had no answer to their visitors’ class.

With all hopes of coming through Group I now gone, Steve Clarke has to turn his attention to coming up with the right formula to win the Nations League semi-final play-off in March.

It’s likely to be either Norway or Bulgaria at Hampden in six months’ time but there will have to be a marked improvement if the Scots are to overcome that hurdle to move within 90 minutes of reaching Euro 2020.

The hosts were behind with just nine minutes on the clock, when Romelu Lukaku netted after a classic counter-attack after the Scots lost possession in the Belgian box. Further goals – all set up by De Bruyne – from Thomas Vermaelen and Toby Alderweireld before the break had the game finished as a contest.

The manner of the goals conceded will frustrate Clarke, with his defence posted missing all too often.

Thankfully for the Scots, Belgium took their foot off the pedal in the second half and managed just the one goal, De Bruyne capping a masterclass with his side’s fourth eight minutes from the end.

With four games left in the group, only San Marino are worse off than Scotland, who now languish nine points behind second-placed Russia, who were 1-0 winners over Kazakhstan.

“It’s obviously very difficult to sugarcoat a 4-0 defeat,” said Clarke.

“The group’s over in terms of qualification. We have to target third position, there’s 12 points up for grabs and between now and the end of the campaign we have to make sure we finish third in the group- it’s important for ranking and seeding.

“It’ll mean we’ll have performed well, won a few games and picked up points which should give us confidence heading into the play-off games in March.”

He added: “I think if people look at the game tonight, certain aspects of the game the way we tried to pass the ball, to press a very good team. At times we got it right.

“You can’t avoid the scoreline and I’m not trying to, but there were bits in the game, moments in the game where I thought we looked as though we could become a decent team given time to grow.”

Scotland: Marshall, O’Donnell, Mulgrew, Cooper, Robertson, McLean, McGregor (Armstrong), McTominay, Christie (McGinn), Phillips (Russell), Snodgrass.

Other Group I results: Russia 1 Kazakhstan 0; Cyprus 4, San Marino 0.

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