Scotland fell victim to another Artem Dzyuba-inspired Russia display as the talismanic striker scored twice in their 4-0 win in Moscow.
In their first game back at the Luzhniki Stadium since the win over Spain at last year’s World Cup, Dzyuba made it an occasion to remember with two second-half goals.
Dzyuba had already scored in the 2-1 win at Hampden Park last month and was in the thick of the action again.
His strikes, which book-ended the pivotal 13 minute period in which the game was won, sandwiched a wonder-strike from Magomed Ozdoev to leave Scotland reeling. The impressive Aleksandr Golovin capped off a night that quickly got out of hand for the Scots.
Steve Clarke had already resigned himself to preparing for the play-offs and that task now moves on to Sunday’s tie at home to San Marino.
Aberdeen defender Mikey Devlin was handed his debut, as was Sheffield United’s John Fleck as Steve Clarke shuffled his pack. Robert Snodgrass kept his place from the Belgium game, ahead of James Forrest, while Liam Palmer came in for Stephen O’Donnell at right-back.
In their previous meeting, Scotland started quick but faded even faster. A repeat in the Luzhniki Stadium would have made an imposing challenge even more formidable.
Aside from Fedor Kudryashov lashing over at the back post via a deflected cross, Scotland navigated the opening 20 minutes with minimal fuss. Their own forward forays had been brief, however, with a lot being asked of Oliver Burke as the visitors’ lone striker.
Andy Robertson was required at the near post to block a goal-bound attempt by Aleksei Ionov and nerves were frayed a little 12 minutes before the break when Fleck felled Aleksandr Golovin. The Monaco schemer took responsibility for the free-kick but the ball flicking the roof of the net was relief for those in navy blue.
David Marshall’s night had been a relatively quiet one up to this point, but one quick parry from the increasingly-influential Golovin was warning enough that Scotland had to remain vigilant.
Burke, who had to receive treatment in the first half, was switched at half-time for Lawrence Shankland, handing a third Scotland player his international bow.
But it was the man at the other end of the pitch, who Scotland had so far held at bay, that came up trumps.
Dzyuba got in front of Charlie Mulgrew from a Golovin corner and directed the ball into the top corner, before peeling away to take in the adulation of the Luzhniki.
A second goal followed quickly to leave the Scots floored. The away defence were passengers as Ozdoev took aim from 25 yards, arrowing high into the net and killing what hope Scotland had.
The risk now was for Scotland to come apart at the seams and it nearly happened again, with Dzyuba, now imperious after his opener, crashing a speculative effort against the bar.
The Zenit frontman duly got his second, outwitting both Devlin and Mulgrew to prod home from close range, before Golovin delivered the icing on the cake..