Bulgaria – East Germany
In the wake of their huge disappointment of not qualifying for the 1988 European Championships, Bulgaria had during the winter completed a four game tour of the Middle East and north Africa, where they had beaten Qatar and then United Arab Emirates twice, before losing to Egypt in the space of just eight days. Manager Boris Angelov had given debuts to defenders Zapryan Rakov and Dimitar Vasev against Qatar, as well as bringing on substitutes Iliyan Kiryakov and Aleksandar Bonchev for their international debuts in the second half. No less than six players had started all four matches, though only central defenders Rakov and Iliev had completed the 90 minutes in all four. Striker Petar Aleksandrov had scored twice in three matches during the tour, midfielder Sadakov had two goals in four, one of which was from the penalty spot. Promising CFKA Sredets striker Stoichkov had scored in the opening match after coming on as a half-time substitute, and this was his first ever goal at international level, in his fourth appearance.
Two months after returning from their tour, Bulgaria had welcomed Czechoslovakia to Sofia. Against a relatively strong outfit, the hosts had triumphed by two goals to nil, their goals coming from forwards Sirakov and Penev, one in each half. It had been a promising start to the calendar year; they appeared to have overcome their qualification failure. Could they follow this up with another good showing against Bernd Stange’s East Germany, another side which had looked strong in the last qualifiers?
Manager Angelov would largely continue with the same pool of players which had already appeared during 1988, and since the 1-0 home defeat by Scotland in their final European Championship qualification match, with the winning goal coming four minutes from time to see the Republic of Ireland overtake Bulgaria as group winners and qualify for West Germany, it was really only Vitosha defender Petar Petrov and Saint-Étienne’s Georgi Dimitrov, another defender, who had opted out of the national team. Petrov’s 47th cap against the Scottish had been his final one, whilst Dimitrov would make a brief return in the autumn of 1988. Stalwarts such as goalkeeper Mikhaylov, full-back Nikolov, midfielder Sadakov and forward Sirakov were still there to nurture the bright talent which was emerging in the Bulgarian ranks. Young forwards Stoichkov and Penev had come to the fore towards the end of the European Championship qualifiers, and would continue to prosper in the Bulgarian attempt to reach a second successive World Cup. Or so they were hoping. In the spring of 1988, Bulgaria’s immediate football future was looking bright. They were good value for their position as second seeds in Group 1.
Visiting East Germany had seen various fortunes in their first three matches in ’88, with a creditable scoreless draw in Spain, a 2-1 defeat in Morocco, and then a 3-3 home draw with Romania. What would they bring for this friendly in Burgas on the Black Sea coast? Just like today’s hosts, they had completed a fine qualification campaign to try and reach the tournament in West Germany, but had to see the Soviet Union finish two points ahead of them. Indeed, the East Germans’ only defeat had come away in Kiev. Stange’s side had been paired with their Warsaw Pact comrades once again for the upcoming qualification, but on this occasion there would be two teams going through from their group, not just one. East Germany would have fancied their chances as they were by most accounts one of the top 10 European sides in ’88. They had conceded two late goals in their most recent match, the 3-3 draw with Romania in Halle. Prior to that, they had lost 2-1 in Morocco against the upcoming hosts of the African Cup of Nations in what had been Morocco’s final preparation match. The 0-0 in Spain in January had been a solid feat against one of the eight teams that had qualified for the 1988 Euro event.
Goalkeeper René Müller, who had been a mainstay during their previous qualification campaign, was missing, and so too was left-sided defender Matthias Döschner, and another absentee was experienced forward Ralf Minge. But Bernd Stange had brought an experienced side to the shores of the Black Sea nevertheless. Their starting eleven averaged 31 caps, despite sporting a debutant in right-back Mario Röser. East German Oberliga champions elect Dynamo Berlin had four players in the starting line-up, whilst their fiercest competitor in the title challenge, Lokomotive Leipzig, only had central defender Ronald Kreer among the eleven.
This was their 17th meeting, with 6-6-4 the statistics in favour of Bulgaria pre-match. Their last encounter had been two and a half years earlier, when they had been in the same qualifying group for the 1986 Mexico World Cup. East Germany had triumphed 2-1 on home soil in Karl-Marx-Stadt, but Bulgaria had eventually made it through to the tournament proper, and had also beaten the East Germans by a goal to nil in the home fixture in Sofia in April ’85.
Referee was 40 year old West German (!) Wiesel, who was about to complete his fifth top flight season in his home country. This was, however, his first ever international appearance.
|1 Borislav Mikhaylov (c)||25||Vitosha|
|2 Zapryan Rakov||26||Trakia Plovdiv|
|3 Pavel Dochev||22||Lokomotiv Sofia|
|4 Dimitar Vasev||22||Lokomotiv Sofia|
|5 Nikolay Iliev||24||Vitosha|
|6 Iliyan Kiryakov||20||Etar|
|7 Radoslav Zdravkov||sub 33′||31||Chaves|
|8 Ayan Sadakov||sub 61′||26||Lokomotiv Plovdiv|
|9 Lyubo Penev||21||CFKA Sredets|
|10 Nasko Sirakov||25||Vitosha|
|11 Hristo Stoichkov||22||CFKA Sredets|
|14 Trifon Ivanov||on 61′||22||Etar|
|15 Plamen Getov||on 33′||29||Spartak Pleven|
East Germany (4-5-1)
|1 Bodo Rudwaleit||30||Dynamo Berlin|
|2 Ronald Kreer||28||Lokomotive Leipzig|
|3 Dirk Stahmann||30||Magdeburg|
|4 Mario Röser||21||Carl Zeiss Jena|
|5 Frank Rohde||29||Dynamo Berlin|
|6 Hans-Uwe Pilz||73′, sub 82′||29||Dynamo Dresden|
|7 Jörg Stübner||22||Dynamo Dresden|
|8 Richard Steinmann||45′||20||Karl-Marx-Stadt|
|9 Ulf Kirsten||22||Dynamo Dresden|
|10 Rainer Ernst||26||Dynamo Berlin|
|11 Andreas Thom (c)||22||Dynamo Berlin|
|14 Torsten Kracht||on 82′||21||Lokomotive Leipzig|
We see Bulgaria line up in an expected and narrow 4-3-3, where Dochev was the spare man at the back, perhaps a bit surprisingly, given the fact that Iliev would also perform libero duties. At right-back Rakov was probably less involved attacking-wise than his counterpart Vasev on the opposite flank, whereas regular right-back Kiryakov was the holding man in midfield on this occasion. To complete the midfield three, the flame haired Kiryakov had Zdravkov to his right, Sadakov to his left. Stoichkov started as the more right-sided of the three forwards, with Penev to the left of the central Sirakov, though Penev and Stoichkov would infrequently swap positions, with Sirakov typically remaining in the centre. There was not a lot of width in their play, as they often searched for their three strikers, breaking quickly through midfield. After just over half an hour of play, shortly after falling behind, manager Angelov decided to replace the anonymous Zdravkov with the popular Getov, which was more or less a straight midfield swap.
As for the visiting East Germans, they were in something of an unorthodox 4-5-1. At the back, Stahmann was the somewhat deep libero, a role that central defender Rohde was also familiar with from his club team Dynamo Berlin. However, here Rohde had to play just in front of Stahmann, and debutant full-back Röser was seen on the right hand side, with the experienced Kreer as the left-back. The visitors did not focus a lot of their positional play along the right hand side, where gifted midfielder Stübner was in a starting role, though he was never afraid to leave his designated terrain and come in field to participate in operations. Stübner would also push forward when his team mates were in possession, and he showed great instincts to get to Mikhaylov’s rebound after Thom’s strike from an angle to put the visitors ahead. In a central midfield role there was Pilz, who often lent a helping hand towards the left of centre, as Steinmann was more prone to keeping width on the left hand side than Stübner was opposite. Captain Thom, a very well respected player around the continent towards the latter part of the 80s, was seen in an attacking midfield role, something which was also the case with the tall, blonde Ernst. The latter started to the left of the two, but Thom would also at times be drawn towards the left hand side, with not so much happening along the opposite touchline, something which would guide Ernst towards the right in what appeared to be well cohersed acts of balancing. Lone (w)ulf Kirsten was the only designated striker, using his legs well to move from side to side, not giving the home defenders a lot of peace.
Stange was taking this opportunity to experiment seriously. The wind conditions were severe, and were definitely influencing the flow of the game. The GDR boss clearly had a wish to test some of his players out in various positions, and inside the final ten minutes of the first half, one finds the left-sided Steinmann operating on the right hand side of midfield. Stübner is allowed more central responsibility, and Pilz is also in a central position (probably central left) rather than switching over into Steinmann’s original wide left role; this task falls to Ernst. So one does suspect even a tinkering of formation in the latter part of the opening half: a 4-4-2 where Thom operates freely behind Kirsten, just ahead of a midfield four.
The visitors’ boss had the same eleven out for the start of the second half. Around the 57 minute mark he switched left-back Kreer over to the right hand side of midfield, whilst left midfielder Steinmann dropped back to left-back. There had not been a wide midfielder on the right hand side until Stange’s short-lived experiment with Kreer in this role. Five minutes later he was back where he started: as left-back. Steinmann was again moved forward into his midfield slot. These were the kind of little ploys the manager could allow himself during a friendly.
For the home team, Etar’s Trifon Ivanov comes on to play for the last 30 minutes for Sadakov, who’s also had a quiet afternoon up until then. Ivanov takes a midfield role, but it does appear that manager Angelov goes lopsided with his original midfield formation, where Kiryakov had been the sole holding player and with Sadakov/Zdravkov/Getov ahead of him. Now both Ivanov and Kiryakov were sitting deep, with Getov ahead of them; they had turned their V around. And this brought a stronger grip on proceedings from their perspective.
Debutant Torsten Kracht had been the only East German substitute coming on. He replaced Pilz in a straight swap less than ten minutes from time. Kracht had been the player nearest to Ivanov as the Bulgarian substitute headed home the equalizer, but it is difficult to say whether Ivanov had been Kracht’s responsibility as per se.
The game takes place on a very poor pitch, which appears very dry and uneven, and which has little patches of brown scattered around. There is also a strong wind blowing down the length of the pitch, and it is the home side preparing to kick off through Penev and Sirakov with the wind in their backs.
The conditions contribute in spoiling what could have been a highly interesting game of football, and the fussy referee also plays a part as he gives far too many free-kicks for infringements which are hardly noticeable. This takes the flow out of the game, and it also has to be said that neither team masters the poor conditions particularly well.
The home side dominate proceedings in the first part of the opening half, without creating an awful lot in front of East Germany’s second choice goalkeeper Rudwaleit. There’s an early opportunity for Stoichkov to test his shooting boots as he receives a short free-kick from Kiryakov inside the right hand side of the visitors’ penalty area, but his shot goes wide of the frame, missing the goal only by a yard or so. Had it gone in, it would have been quite spectacular. On eleven minutes there’s a bigger opportunity for Bulgaria to score when a wind-assisted pass reaches Penev on the left hand side, and he is in on goal with only Rudwaleit to beat, but he doesn’t control the ball until it almost reaches the byline, and he has to take a couple of touches to come inside and fire his shot away. The ‘keeper does well to get down low and parry, but Penev had to rush his attempted finish as defenders were closing in. The Dresden stopper is somehow injured in the process, and needs a bit of treatment before the game can continue.
Just after the 15 minutes mark, there appears to be an opportunity for the visitors clad in marine blue. A ball from Stübner on the right hand side finds the forward rushing Thom in acres of space in the centre of the pitch inside the home team’s half, but the Bulgarian back line has taken a step forward in the nick of time and placed the East German captain a few inches offside. The visitors have been surprisingly tame in the opening quarter of an hour, but they were most likely trying to adjust in the circumstances, the wind in their faces so strong that it was difficult to play any kind of football. This also resulted in some Bulgarian passes forward being wayward, and in general it was a drab opening. The players were clearly affected by the wind, and some even seemed less inspired due to the poor weather conditions. Playing on such a bumpy pitch didn’t help either. And the enormous free-kick count certainly didn’t favour any attempts to make the match free-flowing.
In what is more or less their first proper foray into enemy territory, East Germany go ahead: It is the hard-working Ernst who finds captain Thom on a run into the right hand side of the Bulgarian penalty area, and he appears to be on his way towards the byline where he will probably make an angled pass back to a team mate, but instead he decides to work Mikhaylov with a surprise shot from an acute angle, and the home skipper gives a rebound which an alert Stübner tucks away from close range. So this is what the visitors were able to do when breaking with intent. Could they do it again?
Shortly after the goal, Bulgaria take off invisible midfielder Zdravkov for the ever popular Getov. There’s a chorus of cheers heard even before the experienced midfielder takes to the pitch, and the manager will be hoping that he can influence the game to a much greater extent than his predecessor had done. The Bulgarian midfield was not having a particularly fruitful afternoon so far, and most of the reason for why the East Germans had been pinned back in their own half was due to the strong wind. Usual right-back Kiryakov was playing in the holding midfield role, and early on they tried to play through him and make him pick team mates out with passes. However, as the half wore on, some players looked beyond these instructions, and Kiryakov was beginning to be surpassed when players like Iliev or Getov were in possession inside their own half.
Towards the end of the first half, the Bulgarians finally manage to exert something akin to pressure against the visitors’ goal, but Rudwaleit has a fine first 45 minutes and makes a couple of fine saves after efforts from distance. He is equal both to Penev’s and Stoichkov’s efforts inside the last couple of minutes, though he had to see an effort from Penev go in some three and a half minutes from time. However, the referee had seen Penev’s use of the hand prior to finishing, even if the linesman on the near side had failed to spot it. The visiting defenders were livid, venting their rage towards the referee’s assistant. How could he possibly have failed to see that…eventually, the referee ruled it out.
There’s one booking in the first half: It is Steinmann who has seen a player from each team earlier get away with intentionally stopping the ball with their hand, but when he does it as Sadakov tries to find Stoichkov with a diagonal pass just outside the East German penalty area, Mr Wiesel has clearly had enough and shows the midfielder the yellow card. However, at this point one does feel that it is the referee who is the culprit for the game being such a dull spectacle. The half-time whistle comes as something of a relief.
It is Ernst and Thom who get the second half rolling. Towards the end of the half-time break, the stadium PA has been playing some guitar-based rock music, and obviously the person manning the PA system is absent as the referee restarts the game. 50 seconds pass with raw rock accompanying the 22 players and three officials. To their credit, they do not seem to be bothered. It is business as usual.
There’s no change to either team, and the wind does not appeared to have slowed down. If anything, it seems to have increased, this time playing into the face of the Bulgarian players. So now it was they who would need the start of the second period to get used to the climate and how to operate it differently than they had been doing during the first 45 minutes.
Less than four minutes after the start of the second period, it is the lively Stübner who has a go from 25 yards with his right boot. Shooting from distance with the wind in your back is not the stupidest thing you can do, but captain Mikhaylov in the home goal was equal to it, parrying it out for a right wing corner. And only five minutes after it is libero Stahmann who has a pop: His free-kick from a good 25 yards, again straight out from the centre of Mikhaylov’s goal, is struck with venom, and the ‘keeper elects to box it away rather than attempt something foolish like trying to hold it; he would surely have failed.
The East German manager makes a good few experiments within his playing squad, seeing some positional changes before again reverting back to what he had originally set out with. Even if it is ‘just’ a friendly, they do wish to win, and the visitors show a lot of heart. Again, like during the first half, the referee sees need to halt the game at every opportunity, and so again anything reminiscent of flow is impossible. This goes both ways, and the home players are very frustrated when not being allowed to play an advantage as they were about to break, but instead having to restart with a free-kick just outside their own penalty area.
There is no one player in particular who stands out; the game is scrappy. Getov and Stoichkov have an internal battle among themselves as to who gets to execute set-pieces, but usually the far more experienced substitute comes out trumps. However, it will eventually be from a Stoichkov left wing corner right across to the far side of the six yard box which will bring about the home team’s equalizer. It was the fourth home corner in a dominant spell towards the end of the match, and it has to be said that Bulgaria were finishing the stronger. Also, Ivanov’s debut appearance in national team colours, and in the centre of the pitch, saw favour swing back into the Bulgarians’ favour. And he connected very well with Stoichkov’s corner for the equalizing header, which just crept in on the near post, a post which Rudwaleit had left exposed as he had expected Ivanov to head back into the centre rather than make a scoring attempt. It was Rudwaleit’s sole error all match, but it showed yet again how vulnerable a position the ‘keeper’s post is.
The industrious Pilz in the East German midfield is the second player, and the second among the visitors, to see yellow as he trips Sirakov in an off-the-ball incident. Pilz will some minutes later be the only visitor to be substituted when Stange decides to bring on Kracht for the final few minutes. This is the second East German debutant of the afternoon. The debutant starter, right-back Röser, had done alright.
The match is not without its moments, but mostly it falls short to the extremely windy conditions, which along with the whistle-happy ref contribute to making it far less of an interesting spectacle than it otherwise could have been. Both goalkeepers make mistakes leading to goals against, but they both redeem themselves with some fine saves other than that. Credit to Rakov, Iliev and Ivanov for the home side, whereas Rudwaleit, Rohde and Stübner will have been the pick of the bunch among the visitors.