Roberto Martinez scored four against the Italian minnows on Friday and they did the same in Glasgow for the second time in 12 months. If anyone should be upset by the Tielemans comparison it’s San Marino.
In a list of adjectives used to describe Scotland teams of the past nice wouldn’t be one of them. Aggressive, chippy, gallus and physical, perhaps. Nice? As insults go it’s hard to think of anything more offensive to the Billy Bremner generation.
Instead a superb Mertens pass which picked out the outstanding Kevin De Bruyne, the Manchester City player destroying the Scots with three first half goal assists. His first was a simple pass into the feet of Lukaku for the striker’s 49th international goal.
Lukaku is the prime example of a footballer who loves playing against Scotland. In truth he loves playing against everybody, with the probable exception of Cagliari.
The low finish under David Marshall made it 32 goals for Romelu Lukaku in the red of Belgium since August 2016 and four in three games against the Scots in the last year. Nobody else has more in international football during the same period. There were times after the opening goal when the temptation for Scots to find a hole in the ground and take refuge was almost overwhelming.
The second goal after 23 minutes was embarassingly easy. De Bruyne won the break of the ball from a Callum McGregor tackle on the far touchline from a short corner and whipped a delicious cross into the six yard box.
De Bruyne’s corner found Toby Alderweireld wrestling clear of Charlie Mulgrew, his header coming the underside of the crossbar and bouncing down over the line.
The referee didn’t see it, but the assistant referee did. After half and hour Belgium were 3-0 up. Give the Tartan Army this much, they stuck with it. They resisted the temptation to head for the pub at half-time. They might have but for a brilliant fingertip save from David Marshall denying Mertens Belgium’s fourth goal with a curling strike into top corner three minutes into the second half.
The visitors either took pity on the Scots after that or succumbed to human nature. They lost their slick ruthlessness of the first half, allowing the home team to have some possession without ever really threatening to score.
If anyone deserved a goal it was the gifted De Bruyne and it came easily with nine minutes to play after bustling strength from Lukaku and a classy sidefoot finish. Belgium had their points and a second 4-0 win at Hampden in 12 months, a Cyprus win over San Marino consigning Clarke’s side slide to fifth in Group I, seven points behind Russia with 12 to play for.