CONSIDERING he helped make him what he is today, you might have thought that Romelu Lukaku would have extended Steve Clarke a little more courtesy.

Scotland were 60 seconds away from getting into the dressing rooms of Brussels’ King Baudouin Stadium at half time unscathed when the man who resurrected his career in a prolific loan spell under Clarke at West Brom leapt to propel the ball into David Marshall’s net from close range. The big striker was well and truly off Clarke’s Christmas list when he tapped in a clinching second from close range just before the hour mark after Marshall had parried out Kevin de Bruyne’s shot.

A third goal at the death from the Manchester City man compounded Clarke’s misfortune but given the 43 spots between these teams in the Fifa rankings and the fact Belgium’s team have an estimated combined market value of £1bn it was a testament to Scotland’s organisation during that first period that there should be such a fine line between the success and failure of their tactics. In particular, that first goal was mainly down to the fact Scott McTominay had momentarily relaxed when he thought that the ball was running out of play for a goal kick after he nicked the ball from Thorgan Hazard. Thorgan’s big brother Eden sensed the opportunity, keeping it in to fire over the cutest of crosses. That is what £90m and £400,000 a week gets you, I guess.

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But with this Belgium team, Hazards lurk around every corner. Knowing they would need pretty much everything to go right to achieve a result against the best team in the world which would have been as famous as those home and away wins against France in Euro 2008 or twin triumphs against the fourth-ranked Croatians under Gordon Strachan, the first blow to the Scottish solar plexus was delivered before kick-off.

Champions League winner Andy Robertson, who met the media on Monday to preview the match, had been unable to shake off a hamstring strain and was out. That meant a debut for Kilmarnock’s Greg Taylor, he and his Ayrshire clubmate Stephen O’Donnell handed the daunting task of shackling Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne. Lord knows what thoughts were going through Taylor’s mind at the anthems but he got a good couple of touches under his belt and emerged from this match with huge credit. Who knew, Scotland now have three excellent left backs.

Clarke – who broke even with six wins, six draws and six losses from his 18 meetings with the Old Firm as Killie boss – has his blueprint pretty much sorted for occasions like this. And Robertson wasn’t the only big name he was prepared to do without: Ryan Fraser, narrowly behind only Hazard in the assist table across Europe’s top five leagues, was held in reserve, as was James Forrest. In from Saturday’s team came Scott McTominay, Johnny Russell, Stuart Armstrong, and Oliver Burke. With Scotland condensing the space and lining up in two tight banks of four, these last two lined up as strikers in a 4-4-2, even if they were asked to funnel back too.

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This was a belt and braces approach from Scotland but the likes of McTominay, Kenny McLean and Callum McGregor – in his 69th and final game of the season – showed good composure on the ball and it at least gave the hosts something to think about, not least when we were able to spring the pace of Burke. A touch more composure, such as when he failed to hit the target early on from an Armstrong pass, and we might have something.

Mind you, at times you marvelled at how clinically the Belgians exploited every gap. Hazard, given a special ovation due to his £90m move to Real Madrid, burst the lines and fed De Bruyne, whose close-range shot took a flick off Marshall as it flew over the bar. The Manchester City man whistled another Exocet inches wide after Russell played Taylor into difficulty, then forced Marshall into a stunning tip-over with an extravagant curling effort from an angle. Axel Witsel won a header on the six-yard box but Marshall again was up to the task.

The clock was going too slow for Scotland’s liking. Those last five minutes before half time took an age, time seeming to stand still when the ball resolutely refused to trickle out for that goal kick.

The second goal was even more of a buzzkill than the first for the 3,000 strong travelling band of the Tartan Army. Lukaku might have had more on the night but hit the foot of the post and fired wide.

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Slowly, Clarke took the shackles off Scotland. Our first shot on target came in 79 minutes, Fraser -on early for Armstrong – curling in an effort which Thibaut Courtois beat out.

Our second came with five minutes remaining, and really should have made the Belgians sweat a little. Scott McKenna was the unlikely man at the heart of it, sprung on a lightning counter right up the middle by Fraser’s pass. Courtois bravely threw his body in the way of the onrushing Aberdonian, but the ball broke to substitute Forrest who took far too long when a touch and hit would have got us on the scoreboard.

The King Baudouin stadium has been a graveyard for Scotland managers, with both Craig Brown and Craig Levein suffering setbacks here which they never recovered from. De Bruyne’s late low strike means the score will go down forever as 3-0 Belgium. But if you looked closely enough you could see green shoots of Scotland’s recovery under Clarke sprouting in Brussels last night.