Belgium defeat pushes Levein to the very brink


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The Independent Online

Craig Levein's 34-month reign in charge of his country was on the brink of ending last night when Scotland crashed to defeat in their Group A qualifying clash against an impressive Belgium side.

Levein needed a result after a dismal start to the World Cup qualifying campaign, having mustered only two points from his side's opening three fixtures, but those dreams ended in the King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels.

It even felt apt that their should be a glimmer of hope at one stage of the evening. For 69 minutes Allan McGregor repelled whatever the much-fancied Belgians could throw at him. He excelled, but at that point, Christian Benteke found space at the far post to head his country ahead from a pinpoint Kevin de Bruyne cross.

It felt like the beginning of the end, and two minutes later, a player who lifted the Premier League trophy in May smashed what must surely be the final nail in Levein's coffin, when Vincent Kompany turned and then rifled an angled drive from the corner of the Scotland penalty area into McGregor's goal.

There is something worrying when the captain declares the dressing room is behind the manager.

That is exactly what Darren Fletcher had done on the eve of such a crucial qualifying game for Levein.

Scotland needed heroes in the King Baudouin stadium. They needed one Fletcher to role back the clock, and another to carry his Premier League form to save the manager he has not spoken to for a year, following a mobile phone text squabble. Sometimes the margin for failure feels marginal, such spats are not.

Instead, it was neither man who kept Levein believing in the opening 10 minutes. That fell to McGregor. Dries Mertens dispossessed Gary Caldwell after just three minutes and from close range the goalkeeper blocked brilliantly and then tipped away the rebound.

McGregor then did well to cut out a low Mousa Dembélé cross and then the same man flashed a shot fractionally wide from 20 yards.

The Spurs midfielder went for it again, soon after, this time shooting wide.

A Kris Commons free-kick was as much as the Scots could muster in reply, on the stroke of half-time but while many may have held out hope of a notable scalp, Levein was left to ponder just how long he can hang on to his job.