Belgium maintained their 100 per cent record in Group I after Romelu Lukaku’s double helped them to a 3-0 win over Scotland in Brussels.
Scotland set up to frustrate Belgium but the hosts eventually broke the deadlock in first-half stoppage time through Lukaku’s header (45+1).
Lukaku then scored his 48th goal for his country after David Marshall palmed Kevin De Bruyne’s shot into his path before De Bruyne rounded off the scoring in stoppage time as Belgium stayed three points ahead of Russia at the top of the group.
Defeat leaves Scotland in fourth, six points behind Roberto Martinez’s side and three points behind second-placed Russia with six games of their qualification campaign remaining.
How Belgium eased past Scotland
Scotland were dealt a blow ahead of kick-off with the news of skipper Andy Robertson’s absence through injury, but it was the visitors who created the first clear-cut chance when Burke dragged his angled-drive past the far post after finding himself in behind Belgium’s defence.
The hosts eventually took control of proceedings and Scotland needed Marshall, who also saved a long-distance effort from Axel Wetzel, to tip De Bruyne’s shot over the crossbar.
The pressure kept building on Scotland, who had to replace Stuart Armstrong with Ryan Fraser in the 32nd minute, but it looked like Steve Clarke’s side would make it to the interval unscathed only for Lukaku to head in Eden Hazard’s inch-perfect cross.
The stunned Scots should have gone 2-0 down four minutes into the second-half when Lukaku headed a cross from Thomas Meunier over the bar while under no pressure.
Two minutes later Marshall beat away a terrific 25-yard free-kick from De Bruyne but after another ferocious drive from the Etihad stadium attacker had been parried by Marshall, Lukaku followed up to score the rebound.
With 10 minutes remaining, Fraser drew a decent save from Thibaut Courtois with a curling shot and the Belgium goalkeeper had to be alert to deny defender Scott McKenna before substitute James Forrest, on for Russell, failed to capitalise on the loose ball.
That proved to be Scotland’s final chance as Marshall was eventually beaten by De Bruyne, who drilled in from the edge of the box to put the final stop on Belgium’s win.
- Scotland have lost each of their last five games against Belgium, conceding 13 goals while scoring none in return.
- Belgium have won eight consecutive European Championship qualifying matches since losing 0-1 to Wales in June 2015.
- Only against Brazil (six between 1977 and 2011) have Scotland lost more games consecutively than they have versus Belgium (five).
- Steve Clarke is the first Scotland manager to lose by at least three goals in his first away game since Craig Levein versus Sweden in August 2010 (0-3).
Clarke: ‘We need improvements’
Scotland manager Steve Clarke: “It was difficult game for us. I don’t think we deserved the third goal at the end and I could say the second goal was offside, which could have changed things.
“My overall impression is that I have a good group of players who are committed to their country. They were competitive in the game against the number one team in the world.
“We have shown in the work done in this 10-day camp, but we need improvements. We need to be better on the ball, but we have grown as a group. We need to be ready to go again against two good sides again in the Autumn.”
Scotland are back in European Qualifier action in September when they host Russia on Friday, September 6 (7.45pm) and Belgium on Monday, September 9.
Belgium’s other qualifier in September is a trip to San Marino on Friday, September 6 (7.45pm).
You can watch all the European Qualifiers live on Sky Sports.