Bet of the Day: Belgium to beat Scotland in Euro qualifier

14th September 2021

With their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign already hanging by a thread, Scotland have one of the most thankless tasks in all of international football this evening, as the Tartan Army make the trip to Brussels for a match with group leaders Belgium. Ahead of the qualifying campaign this match was seen as the first big test for the Scots. That was before they turned up in Astana to be cuffed 3-0 by Kazakhstan – a result which hastened the end of the second Alex McLeish era for the SFA. Under new manager Steve Clarke, Scotland did win at the weekend – ekeing out a 2-1 victory over Cyprus – but it was a harrowing baptism for the former Kilmarnock boss with his side relying on an 89th-minute Oli Burke winner after Cyprus notched an equaliser two minutes prior.

Clarke’s success at Killie was built around the organisational intelligence he brought to the job, with the Ayrshire side regularly taking points off, and occasionally beating, the big Glasgow sides despite being on the wrong side of a marked chasm in resources. It’s this energy he will need to bring to the task of taking on a side filled with players from the world’s top clubs. It’s one thing frustrating Odsonne Edouard, James Forrest and Alfredo Morelos, but if Clarke’s Scottish team can keep Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin de Bruyne in a box for 90 minutes, he may be onto something.

Martinez seeks four from four

Belgium have begun their qualifying campaign flawlessly, winning in Cyprus and picking up six points from home games with Russia and Kazakhstan. The latter win came at the weekend, as the attacking trident of Hazard, Lukaku and Dries Mertens combined to inspire the side to a 3-0 win. With Scotland having shown little evidence that they merit any greater respect than Kazakhstan, 3-0 might very well be the most likely score in this encounter.

In truth, Scotland would take any defeat by a margin less than that given the obvious gulf in class between the sides. Scottish clubs, from which the majority of the players in the national side are drawn, tend to fare poorly against the best in Europe. The quality of the Belgian attack is going to pose problems for the visiting defence, and Betfair have a boosted price of 11/10 for Mertens to score and Belgium to win tonight. That’s a fairly good price given the undoubted class of the Napoli forward.

The Clarke factor: Can Scotland “do a Killie”?

As we’ve noted, the defining factor of Clarke’s Kilmarnock sides was their ability to play above their billing when it came to facing better-equipped opposition. While it is true that his side didn’t have to deal with the quality of player the Scots face tonight, it’s equally true that he had a smaller pool of players to call upon. Among the Scottish defenders is Andrew Robertson, a standout performer for the Liverpool side that just won the Champions League. Kenny McLean, a regular for Championship winners Norwich, is also an upgrade on any player Clarke had at Killie.

Does this mean that Scotland can channel the spirit of their boss’s former club and take points off the top teams? Arguably – what’s more likely is that they make a decent fist of it tonight in a losing cause, but with more time to work together they could have a chance against Russia. Nonetheless, we could see the Scots holding the opposition off until half-time here before the onslaught breaks the dam. You can get odds of 10/3 with 888 on Draw/Belgium in the HT/FT market, and it’s a worthwhile punt particularly if the visiting midfield can avoid the mistakes in possession that sunk McLeish’s side all too often. Expect Aston Villa’s impressive John McGinn to play a big part in that endeavour, along with Manchester United’s Scott McTominay.

Visitors lack real firepower

Far be it from us to argue that it’s a bad idea for a newly-minted national manager to select players from his former club side. There’s a certain logic to it, given that the player and manager both know what is expected from one another – but the international debut of Eamonn Brophy will have done little to dispel the idea that the Kilmarnock forward is an honest, hard-working striker at club level, and somewhat out of his depth on the international stage.

In fairness to both player and boss, the bigger issue is that Scotland don’t have a conveyor belt of attacking talent to pick from. Wingers, they have in abundance. Celtic’s James Forrest is a threat on his day (which has been too seldom in the last six months), while Bournemouth’s Ryan Fraser is a possible target for Liverpool. It’s the player in the middle that continues to elude the Scots and, without a top striker, their attack feels painfully underpowered. Paddy Power have odds of 4/7 for “No” on the Both Teams To Score question, and it’s a bet worth taking.

Bets of the Day

”No” on Both Teams To Score (Paddy Power, 4/7); Draw/Belgium HT/FT (888, 10/3); Mertens to score and Belgium to win (Betfair, 11/10)

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