By Daniel J. McLaughlin
It has not been an ideal start for Alex McLeish as Scotland manager. The former Rangers and Birmingham boss has suffered his fourth defeat in five games since his return to the national job, and his latest loss was a hammering by the ruthless Belgians at a half-full Hampden Park. It was Scotland's biggest home defeat since England won 5-0 in February 1973.
The visitors, who finished third in this summer's World Cup, were in excellent form, but it was also a lacklustre effort from the Scots. It was a poor defensive display with the Belgians capitalising on their errors.
Goalkeeper Craig Gordon threw the ball to John McGinn, but he was quickly robbed of the ball by Mousa Dembélé 25 yards from goal. He found Thorgan Hazard who sent it to an unmarked Romelu Lukaku, and with Gordon out from his goal, the Manchester United forward smashed it into an empty net in the 28th minute.
Belgium had plenty of chances to double their lead. Gordon was lucky to avoid conceding a penalty when he charged out to stop Timothy Castagne, who tumbled over the goalkeeper. Vincent Kompany also hit the crossbar when he meet a corner with his head, and Gordon stopped Lukaku scoring from a rebound at the near post.
It was only a matter of time before they found the back of the net again. It came just after the teams return for the second half when Eden Hazard hit a lovely shot from a tight angle. The Chelsea star gathered the ball on the left, switching feet from right to left, and hit a drive over the goalkeeper's head.
The next goal came just six minutes later. Despite being under no pressure, Charlie Mulgrew gifted the ball to Dembélé, who passed it first time to Hazard. He headed to the edge of the box, before finding substitute Michy Batshuayi. He calmly slotted it past a beleaguered Gordon in the 52nd minute.
The Valencia striker, on loan from Chelsea, added another on the hour mark. Once again, Scotland lost the ball in their own half, and they were punished for it. This time, Ryan Jack was easily dispossessed by Youri Tielemans, and Batshuayi picked it up. He charged on goal, drilling it home from just outside the area. It was far too easy for the Belgians.
Scotland manager McLeish accepted full responsibility for the heavy defeat, admitting he told his players to to pass the ball. He said: "What we have encouraged is for guys to pass the ball. The guys have to learn fast. They are young guys, they have just broken into the team in the last year or so and they were playing a team of world superstars.
"It looked the best choice for me. We have got to test ourselves. But for the first goal we are probably going in at half-time all square. The second half was a catalogue of errors.
"If anybody has to take the blame it is me for telling them to pass the ball. I know Charlie Mulgrew can pass the ball. Ryan Jack got caught on the ball. It is harsh lessons for the young boys."
Belgium manager Roberto Martinez urged Scotland fans to be patient with McLeish's new-look side. The former Everton boss said: "It was a perfect exercise for both teams. We both understand the game that really matters is the next one, the first in the Nations League. The experienced players were very well focused. It was an experimental team.
"We were very clinical in front of goal. This Scotland team is a new project, you need to be patient. It was difficult for us at the beginning. Alex McLeish will have to work with this group for an extended period. I think they can be very good in future."
Scotland face Albania in their next UEFA Nations League game tonight at Hampden Park (K.O. 7.45pm), while Belgium play Iceland away tomorrow (K.O. 7.45pm).