Clarke: Scotland's Euro 2020 automatic qualification hopes over
Steve Clarke admitted Scotland's hopes of automatically qualifying for Euro 2020 are over and urged his side to claim third place after their humbling by Belgium at Hampden Park.
Goals from Romelu Lukaku, Thomas Vermaelen, Toby Alderweireld and Kevin De Bruyne saw the world's number-one ranked side romp to a 4-0 success in Group I – leaving Scotland fifth on Monday.
With the top two positions which offer automatic qualification effectively beyond Scotland – who are 12 points behind leaders Belgium and nine adrift of Russia – Clarke's team's only real hope of qualification is via the play-off spot they secured by winning their Nations League group.
Clarke said it is vital Scotland now build momentum and finish as high as possible in their group ahead of those March games which will determine whether they reach a first major tournament in 22 years.
"The group's over in terms of qualification," head coach Clarke told Sky Sports. "We have to target third position, there's 12 points up for grabs and between now and the end of the campaign we have to make sure we finish third in the group - it's important for ranking and seeding.
"It'll mean we'll have performed well, won a few games and picked up points which should give us confidence heading into the play-off games in March."
Clarke added: "It's obviously difficult to try and sugar coat a 4-0 defeat. It's very difficult to take positives.
"But you have to look at the way the team's set up, the way we tried to press, which we did really well at times. We had good possession, almost 50-50, and some chances. We looked at times like a good team but you can't run away from the scoreline."
"Defensively we have conceded too many goals - one against Cyprus, three in Belgium, two against Russia and four tonight," he continued.
"If you concede goals it's very difficult to win matches."
Meanwhile, Belgium boss Roberto Martinez was delighted with his side's display as they maintained their 100 per cent record in Group I.
"We have now virtually qualified, playing San Marino next," he said. "Now it is important to come first in the group. It was a really pleasing performance. We combined the quality we have with hard work from the start."
De Bruyne, who made three goals before claiming a deserved one of his own late on, added: "It was not a world-class performance, we just did what we had to do. I just did my job. We knew that with a win we would almost certainly qualify, and that is most important."