Steve Clarke believes Scotland “fluffed” their lines by missing a great chance to put pressure on Belgium in their 3-0 Euro 2020 qualifying defeat at the King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels.
The compact Scots defended impressively only for all the good work to be undone just before half-time when a lapse of concentration ended with striker Romelu Lukaku heading in a cross from skipper Eden Hazard.
The Manchester United striker grabbed his a second in the 57th minute, but with five minutes remaining Scotland centre-back Scott McKenna was denied by Thibaut Courtois in a one-on-one before substitute James Forrest failed to capitalise on the loose ball.
Kevin De Bruyne added a third in the final minute with a low drive, after failing with several earlier attempts to beat David Marshall.
Clarke, whose tenure as Scotland boss began with a 2-1 win over Cyprus at Hampden Park on Saturday night, said: “It was obviously a difficult game for us.
“I thought their discipline, attitude, the tactical discipline was excellent.
“I don’t think we deserved that third goal. I could say the second goal was offside which might have changed something and obviously conceding the first goal right on half-time was a big blow for us, but I thought we did well to recover from that.
“I told them to believe in the structure we had and not to panic if it went 2-0.
“I said if goes 2-0 and we get the chance to score it can make it 2-1 and it would be a nervy finish for Belgium.
“Unfortunately we fluffed our lines a little bit, we had a big chance for 2-1.
“It is difficult to create chances against a really good team, but we created the chance.
“Probably unfortunate it fell to big Scott and then the second chance fell to James and he couldn’t quite get it out of his feet to put it in the net.
“But, overall, what I saw over the 10 days is I have a really good group of players who are really committed to their country. They want to get better and improve.
“We were competitive in that game tonight against the best team in the world, ranked number one, so there a lot of positives, but obviously we are professionals and we don’t like to lose the game.”
Belgium boss Roberto Martinez, whose all-star team have won four out of four Group I fixtures, admitted the breakthrough came at the right time.
He said: “We had enough opportunities to score before we scored. I was pleased we scored before half time.
“It would have been very different if that goal had not come in the first half.
“We wanted to get the job done, be professional and now we can have a break.”