Scots face daunting trip to Belgium for qualifying


BRUSSELS (AP) -Next to last in its World Cup qualifying group and visiting in-form Belgium next, Scotland is already facing a daunting task to reach the 2014 tournament in Brazil.

Scotland lost 2-1 at Wales on Friday and will meet a Belgian team on Tuesday coming off a 3-0 victory at Serbia to top Group A.

Belgium boast attacking players of the caliber of wingers Eden Hazard and Kevin Mirallas, forward Christian Benteke, midfielders Marouane Fellaini and Moussa Dembele, plus have defenders such as Vincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen and Thomas Vermaelen.

All eight play in the Premier League. Aside from English players, Belgians have scored more goals in the Premier League this season than any other country.

The 56th-ranked Scots are 26 places behind Belgium but do have one positive - the form of striker Steven Fletcher, who has scored five goals in five league matches for Sunderland this season.

Unfortunately, the rest of the Scottish team doesn't provide the same level of firepower and that's partly why it is on two points after three matches, five behind Belgium and Croatia.

Another loss may force the end of coach Craig Levein's reign as Scotland's chances of advancing to its first major tournament since the 1996 European Championship would be remote.

"It is always important to bounce back when you don't get a good result and it is especially so now," Scotland goalkeeper Allan McGregor said. "Obviously qualifying has become more difficult now but we can't give up, and we need to look forward to the Belgium game with belief that we can take something from them.

"It's hard to pinpoint what is going wrong. As the manager said, there is just one ingredient away from things going well but luck is definitely not something we have had a lot of. The group was always going to be a difficult one and it has become even more difficult now."

Scotland midfielder James Morrison has started the season well for West Bromwich Albion, scoring three goals and setting up two. He also scored in the loss to Wales.

Protecting the Belgian defense will be Axel Witsel, the 23-year old who joined Zenit St. Petersburg in the offseason for 32 million pounds. His direct opponent will likely be Charlie Adam, who only cost Stoke five million pounds.

Against Wales, Scotland captain Darren Fletcher played his first game for Scotland since taking a break from all football last December because of a chronic bowel complaint.

Copyright 2016 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.

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