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Pursuit of respectability is all that's left for Scotland

CLASS tells.

There was nothing to cheer in the technical area as  Scotland were overrun by Belgium. Picture: Getty Images
There was nothing to cheer in the technical area as Scotland were overrun by Belgium. Picture: Getty Images

It may occasionally have a stutter, it may pause for effect. But it tells. Its message last night was that Belgium are a high-class side heading to Rio de Janeiro and Scotland are not. Some words before this one-sided match from the well-intentioned but delusionally optimistic spoke of an unlikely Scottish victory, the boys' determination to do it for the manager and of a belief that the brave sons of Caledonia perform well when their backs are against the wall.

There was one element of truth in this nonsense. Scots backs were against the wall. But Belgium were the firing squad. Scotland now lie twitching at the bottom of Group A. The post-mortem will attribute the cause of World Cup death to a series of mistakes by both players and manager. It will be the latter who must surely pay the price.

There were flickering hopes of a reprieve for the Scots last night, if only from a drubbing. The first half offered both the reality of a flagging side being beaten up by a team replete with confidence and technique. It also offered a substantial consolation as Scotland somehow finished the first period on level terms.

It could not last and it did not. Belgium moved clear through goals from Christian Bentike – his first name paying tribute to his charity to the Scots in front of goal in the first half – and Vincent Kompany. It was not until almost 70 minutes had past before the red horde made a breakthrough with Bentike's header. Kompany's crushing shot past Allan McGregor followed soon after but this was a match that was so one-sided throughout as to be almost embarrassing.

The scoreline could certainly have been humiliating. McGregor made three great saves in the first 10 minutes. He was constantly asked to be at his best and he performed brilliantly at times, though he also suffered the odd lapse at the cross ball and with his distribution.

These blemishes in his overall performance were probably occasioned by a severe case of shell-shock. Belgium were constantly on the attack, switching the ball wide to allow for dangerous crosses and playing the ball into feet at the edge of the area to instigate a series of interplays that exposed McGregor to a roll call of the Belgian team. Thibaut Courtois was the only home player who seemed reluctant to take a shot at McGregor's goal. And he is, of course, the Belgian goalkeeper. As McGregor auditioned for the part of an all-action hero, Courtois made a couple of saves for the camera from Scotland free-kicks.

Scotland, though, were as dangerous as a two-year-old in a strop. Belgium, in contrast, were slick, assured and won at a canter. Their frustration of the first half lifted after Eden Hazard, the Chelsea attacker, came on at half-time and contributed subtly but significantly to both goals. These were more than enough to decide the match. Scotland never threatened to upset the Belgians. They were harmless in attack and regularly gormless in defence. Their defects were exposed mercilessly in the King Baudouin stadium. They were royally rumbled.

The end of Scotland's World Cup road came long before Brussels, of course, though Craig Levein persisted in telling everyone otherwise. To be beaten 2-0 by Marc Wilmots' side was to be expected given the gulf in class. It even could have been brushed off if Scotland were coming off a series of point-gathering results from two home matches and a trip to Wales. Instead, Scotland came into the match with two points and zero credibility. This was Levein's Waterloo and he and his team were routed.

The retreat from Brussels now begins with a side facing a campaign that still includes six matches to be played before this already dispiriting, demoralising World Cup campaign ends in terms of action on the park. Yet it is over in terms of qualification or even, perhaps, respectability. The first and perhaps only imperative now is for Scotland to claw away as far as possible from the bottom of the table.

This task will begin against Wales in March at a Hampden that will only be populated by the hard core of the Tartan Army, a modest Welsh travelling support and as many weans as can persuade their parents to agree to purchase hugely discounted tickets from the Scottish Football Association. This process will mercifully all end some time next year.

Scotland will then face the trial of trying to qualify for the European Championships of 2016 where 23 sides out of 52 will head to France. This ratio would seem to offer a decent prospect of a decent side making a major finals. Scotland do not fall into this category. The team is in disarray, the fans are in despair and the SFA and the manager are in denial.

Class told for the Belgians last night but the message for Scotland was loud and clear. It has to change.

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