HAVING watched the Scotland rugby team produce a remarkable and record-breaking second-half fightback against England on Saturday, it made sense for Alex McLeish to reference that Six Nations match at Twickenham in his half-time address to his shellshocked players last night.

They were trailing 2-0 in the Astana Arena after being comprehensively outfought and outthought by their hosts Kazakhstan in the opening 45 minutes, appeared to have no prospect of recovering and so much as salvaging a draw and heads were well and truly down.

Yet, if their oval ball counterparts were capable of overhauling a 31-0 deficit and taking the lead away from home then, McLeish pointed out as he tried to lift the spirits of his dejected charges, why couldn’t they?

Evening Times: Scotland's Scott Bain, David Bates and James Forrest trudge off the pitchScotland's Scott Bain, David Bates and James Forrest trudge off the pitch

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“We actually brought the rugby team into it and their reaction last week at Twickenham and use that as an example,” he said. “We told them: 'You've got to roll your sleeves up'. I believe if we could have got one goal, we then could have gone on and got another one. But unfortunately, Kazakhstan were a team on fire.”

Indeed they were. The home team’s play, going forward especially, was red hot. They buried their chances clinically and were rewarded with an unexpected, but richly deserved, triumph as a result of that ruthlessness. At the same time, however, Scotland failed to ignite.

Only one game of the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign has been played, but already the national team’s hopes of reaching the finals appear in very real danger of being booted firmly into touch.

The 650 members of the Tartan Army who had spent considerable sums of money to be present sat silently through most of a dispiriting 90 minutes and booed and jeered their own players off the park after Serbian referee Srdjan Jovanovic blew the final whistle to bring the whole sorry debacle to an end. And no wonder.

Their team was devoid of creativity and combativeness in midfield and had been completely ineffectual in attack. As for their defending? The less said about that the better. It was quite simply woeful.

Evening Times: Alex McLeish shows his frustration on the touchlineAlex McLeish shows his frustration on the touchline

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The back line gifted Yuriy Pertsukh and Yan Vorogovskiy goals in the first-half and allowed Baktiyor Zainutdinov to net in the second. The Aberdeen duo of Scott McKenna and Graeme Shinnie were the chief culprits. But nobody got pass marks. There were no positives, absolutely none, to be taken from a highly alarming outing.

The plastic pitch was clearly not to the liking of many of the visiting players despite their insistence afterwards that it had not been a factor in the outcome. But it was very difficult to see what the game plan was. A Stuart Armstrong shot in the second-half, when Scotland were 3-0 down, was their only serious chance.

Having to start their qualifying campaign 3,000 miles and two time zones away in Central Asia on an artificial surface with a host of important players – including Liverpool left back and captain Andy Robertson and Celtic man Kieran Tierney - absent was clearly far from ideal.

Still, it was not unreasonable to expect them to beat rivals ranked a lowly 117th in the FIFA World Rankings - below those behemoths of the beautiful game, Haiti, Madagascar and Mauritania.

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Armenia and Latvia have both drawn with Kazakhstan away in the last couple of years while Georgia and even Montenegro have beaten them on their own Astroturf.

The only competitive fixture they have won in their previous 16 before last night was against mighty Andorra last year.

That was, admittedly, before Michal Bilek, the former Czech Republic manager, took charge earlier this year. The vastly-experienced coach has clearly had a positive impact on the minnows. Do not be surprised if they produce a few more upsets before the campaign is out. They were right to celebrate their fine win long after the game had finished.

However, this was a Group I game that Scotland really could have done with taking maximum points from given the greater challenges which undoubtedly lie ahead.

There is little margin for error in international football and they will be doing very well indeed to claim one of the two automatic qualifying spots available in a section that includes Belgium and Russia now.

Scotland finished their Nations League campaign on a huge high last year after a similarly catastrophic excursion to Israel by beating Albania away and Israel at home to top their section and clinch a Euro 2020 play-off spot.

Evening Times: Yuriy Pertsukh (left) unleashes an unstoppable strike to put Kazakhstan 1-0 in frontYuriy Pertsukh (left) unleashes an unstoppable strike to put Kazakhstan 1-0 in front

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That led to hopes they wouldn’t need to rely on that safety net and could progress to the finals without it. How quickly that sense of optimism has vanished. If they continue to perform as poorly as this and concede such soft goals in the months ahead then that will be their best chance of ending a wait to reach a major tournament that stretches back to France ’98.

Next up are San Marino in Serravalle on Sunday. A few of those involved in this abject display in Kazakhstan will have no complaints if they are dropped and others are given an opportunity. McLeish will face growing calls to be replaced too if there isn’t a stark improvement against Cyprus at home and Belgium away in June.