Bulgaria – Soviet Union: The Soviets do well to come from behind and win in fine battle
This friendly saw a host team of qualifying Group 1 take on visitors from atop Group 3. Bulgaria had come up against strong opposition in their first two qualifiers, against Romania and Denmark respectively, and with the latter coming to Sofia two months on, this was about as good a test as it got. The Soviets had perhaps not fired on all cylinders in their two qualifiers thus far, but the losing finalists from the previous summer’s European Championships would still represent a massive task for a Bulgaria which still had some rebuilding ahead of them until they were the finished article.
Bulgaria team news
Whilst being on the receiving end of a 3-1 home loss to their Romanian neighbours on the opening day of qualification, Bulgaria had certainly redeemed themselves by obtaining an impressive point in the Danish capital. They had showed plenty of grit and determination, and they had looked fairly sound defensively, even if they rode their luck at times. They had seemed unable to produce anything on counter-attacks, which might otherwise have created something for them. This must have been a disappointment to manager Boris Angelov.
Operating in a 5-3-2 formation in Copenhagen, which formation and what tactics would the Bulgarian management opt for this time around? There were three changes in the matchday squad of 16 from the visit in Scandinavia early in December: Out went midfielder Ivailo Kirov, a starter then, defender Emil Dimitrov and forward Petar Aleksandrov. The two latter had both been unused substitutes in Denmark. Coming into the squad were full-back Dimitar Vasev, attacking midfielder Nikolay Todorov, a possible debutant, and not least exciting forward Emil Kostadinov, the third of the CFKA Sredets attackers, with his team mates from club level, Hristo Stoichkov and Lyubo Penev, already national team regulars. Kostadinov had got his first cap (and indeed goal!) during the 1-0 friendly win in Sharjah against the United Arab Emirates in December, where those CFKA three had all started. He was possibly their best option for a rapid counter-attacking recipe.
Soviet Union team news
The Soviets had hardly impressed anyone during their qualification opener, where they had even been a tad fortunate to return home from Reykjavik with a point after Litovchenko’s equalizer 15 minutes from time. However, against the Austrians in October, they had won deservedly. Three November friendlies, one in Syria and two in Kuwait, had also yielded wins, even without conceding. This had happened without leading goalkeeper Dasayev, who had recently moved abroad (Seville, Spain), and with him only two days earlier having featured during his new club side’s 2-0 defeat away to Atlético Madrid, it meant that the 31 year old former Spartak Moscow ‘keeper was again unavailable.
The matches in Syria and Kuwait had provided Soviet manager Valery Lobanovsky with an opportunity to experiment a little, even if there were hardly wholesale changes. There had been debuts for players such as young goalkeeper Dmitry Kharin and midfielders Nikolay Savichev, brother of forward Yuri, and Oleg Shirinbekov. All three hailed from Moscow clubs. Only Kharin remained for this journey, with Dasayev unavailable. He would fight it out with Viktor Chanov over the number 1 jersey.
Two other foreign based players were unavailable: libero Khidiatullin (Toulouse) and deep forward Zavarov (Juventus). The former played a league game in France on the same night (they’d lose 3-0 away to Caen), while Zavarov had come off during the first half in Juventus’ 0-0 league home draw with Como two days earlier. The following weekend he would start for his club side in their 2-1 win at Cesena, so his absence could also well have been due to Juventus not wanting to risk him further aggravating an injury.
Noticeable absentees from domestic football were defender/midfielder Vladimir Bessonov, central midfielder Aleksey Mikhailichenko (both of Dinamo Kiev) and attacker Igor Dobrovolsky of Dinamo Moscow.
Eight players from Dinamo Kiev had travelled, while five other were Moscow based. In addition, there were the two Dinamo Minsk aces (Aleinikov and Zygmantovich) as well as a sole representant from Dnepr in defender Cherednik, a possible debutant. Another player who could make his first country appearance was Lokomotiv Moscow defensive midfielder Andrey Kalaychev. Neither were spring chickens, with 28 and 25 years respectively.
47 year old East German Klaus Peschel was an experienced referee. He was in his tenth year as a FIFA official, and he’d made his debut just shy of six years earlier with the friendly between Poland and today’s hosts Bulgaria (3-1). He’d also refereed three European Championships qualifiers: One ahead of the ’84 tournament (Netherlands 5-0 Malta in ’83) and two before last summer’s event in West Germany (Austria 3-0 Albania and Yugoslavia 3-0 Northern Ireland). He had also been in Sofia for an international assignment the previous year, when Czechosloavkia had been defeated 2-0 in March. Seven among those in today’s squad had featured that day, with Penev among the goalscorers. In fact, from Peschel’s first task of officiating Bulgaria, midfielder Georgi Yordanov still remained.
14 past encounters between Bulgaria and the Soviet Union had resulted in eight wins for today’s visitors, whilst five games had ended in draws, with the Bulgarians only successful once: in a March 1973 friendly in Plovdiv (1-0). The pair had never met in qualification for either a European Championships or a World Cup. Their last clash had happened as far back as March 1980, in the very same stadium as this afternoon, and the Soviets had triumphed by 3-1. None of the 29 players who got minutes that day were in either squad today, albeit both Dasayev and Khidiatullin featured for the Soviets.
In the Vasil Levski VIP section sat West Germany Teamchef Franz Beckenbauer. Obviously, his team were due to visit Sofia a month later, and when approached by Bulgarian TV towards the end of the second half, der Kaiser freely admitted to being on a scouting mission ahead of next month’s friendly. That game would be a massive dress rehersal for the West Germans as they were about to take on the Netherlands for that Group 4 crunch clash in Rotterdam on April 26. He said that they had been looking for a strong opponent ahead of that giant meeting with their neighbours, and that Bulgaria fitted the bill perfectly.
|1 Iliya Valov||27||Sredets|
|2 Iliyan Kiryakov||21||Etar|
|3 Pavel Dochev||23||Lokomotiv Sofia|
|4 Krasimir Bezinski||27||Sredets|
|5 Nikolay Iliev (c)||24||Vitosha|
|6 Trifon Ivanov||23||Sredets|
|7 Emil Kostadinov||21||Sredets|
|8 Ayan Sadakov||sub 65′||27||Lokomotiv Plovdiv|
|9 Lyuboslav Penev||67′||22||Sredets|
|10 Krasimir Balakov||sub 62′||22||Etar|
|11 Hristo Stoichkov||23||Sredets|
|13 Dimitar Vasev||23||Lokomotiv Sofia|
|14 Zapryan Rakov||27||Trakia Plovdiv|
|15 Georgi Yordanov||on 62′||25||Vitosha|
|16 Nikolay Todorov||on 65′||24||Lokomotiv Sofia|
|x Nikolay Donev||31||Etar|
Soviet Union (4-4-2)
|1 Dmitry Kharin||sub h-t||20||Dinamo Moskva|
|2 Sergey Gorlukovich||sub h-t||27||Lokomotiv Moskva|
|3 Sergey Aleinikov||32′||27||Dinamo Minsk|
|4 Oleg Kuznetsov||25||Dinamo Kiev|
|5 Anatoly Demyanenko (c)||30||Dinamo Kiev|
|6 Vasily Rats||27||Dinamo Kiev|
|7 Ivan Yaremchuk||sub 58′||26||Dinamo Kiev|
|8 Gennady Litovchenko||25||Dinamo Kiev|
|9 Aleksandr Borodyuk||26||Dinamo Moskva|
|10 Oleg Protasov||25||Dinamo Kiev|
|11 Andrey Zygmantovich||sub 67′||26||Dinamo Minsk|
|12 Andrey Kalaychev||on 67′||25||Lokomotiv Moskva|
|13 Aleksey Cherednik||on 58′||28||Dnepr Dnepropetrovsk|
|14 Igor Belanov||on h-t||28||Dinamo Kiev|
|15 Yuri Savichev||24||Torpedo Moskva|
|16 Viktor Chanov||on h-t||29||Dinamo Kiev|
It has been decided that the visitors will kick the game off. They appear from right to left as we look at it, and they will proceed with the kick-off once the East German referee has made sure that all media personnel are off the turf. The Soviet team had had their group picture taken in the centre circle, and there appeared to be quite a few representatives from Soviet media present.
The pitch does look to be slightly cut in central areas, though it should not be much of a concern unless the condition deteriorates during the course of the game. It is the Soviets’ expected front duo of Aleksandr Borodyuk, a debutant, and Oleg Protasov who get the ball rolling. Off we go!
Cautious opening, something which Stoichkov wants to have a say about
Not surprisingly, the game has a quiet start where the two teams look to be feeling each other out. Both are compact through their respective cores, although there are perhaps hints in the direction of the visitors being more so than the hosts. Bulgaria manager Angelov has so far in the qualification showed that he can throw caution to the wind (with his ultra-attacking line-up in their opener against Romania) and also approach a game safety first, as they had done in Copenhagen in November. Even through the opening few minutes, you can sense that he’s lined his charges up in a 4-3-3, whilst there appears to be few surprises regarding the Soviet formation, which usually has a 4-4-2 outline, even if it should be said that Aleksandr Zavarov has typically been operating somewhat behind Oleg Protasov up front. On this occasion, though, there’s no Zavarov, so it looks as if debutant Aleksandr Borodyuk is attempting to fill his shoes.
Whilst both teams wish to interpass and let all members of their respective teams make themselves acquainted with the ball early on, there does appear to be an attempted charge through the centre from the home side’s forward Hristo Stoichkov. The Bulgarian #11, one of three attackers from champions elect CFKA Sredets of the Bulgarian capital, accelerates ball at feet, though before he can arrive in the vicinity of the Soviet penalty area, his run has been halted. It had appeared that it happened through the means of an opponent’s boot, though as it were, the referee let the suspected culprit, Soviet midfielder Andrey Zygmantovich, sporting his famous moustache as always, get away with it: no free-kick. Zygmantovich also appeared to have been somewhat surprised that there had been no decision awarded, though ultimately the visitors would clear the ball away to safety. Still, it had been a fine early initiative through Stoichkov in what was already the recently turned 23 year old’s 16th international. Until today, he had four goals to show for in his country’s colours, one of which had been his strike against what was effectively a Soviet ‘B’ side back in September last year.
With about a quarter of an hour passed, you do have a feeling that you are realizing what both teams’ ambitions are. Bulgaria, who have added the quick and skillful Emil Kostadinov to their forward line, may have the lion’s share of possession early on, but it is when they are presented with the opportunity to catch their opponents on the break they show what they can do. One such occasion arises after the visitors fail to take any kind of advantage from a free-kick deep inside Bulgarian territory, and in addition to their front three, the hosts can also call on inside left midfielder Krasimir Balakov for leading the team in a rapid transition. He is the one with the responsibility to carry the ball at speed along the left, something which sees their front three all take up positions inside the Soviet penalty area, with the visitors struggling to return back with a sufficient number of players. They are, however, fortunate on this occasion that Balakov’s cross is of disappointing standard, and so Kuznetsov can get his head to the ball and his team can regain possession. A better delievery into the box had been necessary, but at least the Bulgarians had given their visitors a scare. And this happened after a second early Stoichkov burst on the ball. Whilst the wide forward had probably been impeded on his first charge, he’d been prevented well inside the laws of the game by visiting libero Sergey Aleinikov as the Soviet number 3 managed to toe the ball back home to his goalkeeper despite being challenged for speed. Through his sound reading of the game, Aleinikov had taken out a sufficient amount of depth, and so had a head start on Stoichkov, not needing to expose one of his few weaknesses: acceleration.
The Soviet spare man
Aleinikov’s been mentioned, and it was clear that it was he who had taken over libero duties from the absent Vagiz Khidiatullin. He had even inherited the France based defender’s shirt for the occasion, operating behind Oleg Kuznetsov in the heart of the Soviet defence in the number 3 jersey. Whilst Aleinikov was clearly not the quickest player on two feet, he was a terrific reader of the game, using the magnificent footballing brain with which he was equipped to make sure he would be one step ahead of his opponents. For positioning, he was a brilliant choice as libero. He also attempted to make use of another weapon of his: long distribution. Trying to catch the hosts off-guard, he would hit it long towards right sided midfielder Ivan Yaremchuk for the little number 7 to run on to. It hardly seemed much of an effort for Aleinikov to hit it 45 yards with his left foot. Ultimately, though, the home side had managed to wrestle back possession before Yaremchuk had been able to make inroads.
When you look into the Soviet line-up, you discover just what strong emphasis Lobanovsky has placed on his core: Right through the team they have such strong, agile, mobile, flexible players, and from the goalkeeper, via their central defence through midfield and right up to lone striker Protasov, there’s this indefinable inner strength which makes the Soviets tick when they’re on their game. It is not that they have weak flanks, because they certainly don’t, but it is the core vitality which first and foremost strikes you. They use it in defending, they rely on it for the early moments of any attack which they wish to mount, and inevitably, any opportunity in front of the opposing ‘keeper does not come along unless it has been quality assured by a member of the front line.
Young Dinamo Moscow custodian Dmitry Kharin is making his fourth country appearance, only 20 years of age. He’d featured in all three of their November friendlies in Syria and Kuwait, and he was giving a very sound, mature impression so far in this game. He was displaying no weaknesses, and you’d instinctively think that what the Soviets have between the sticks is someone of years of international experience. At least, that’s the impression with the halfway point of the opening 45 minutes approaching. Kharin appeared vocal enough for his defenders to know his whereabouts at all times, and though he had yet to be properly tested, he seemed assured and full of belief.
The Soviet Union under Lobanovsky were operating with a defensive line of four, where one of the two in the centre was tasked with the role of libero. With no Khidiatullin available, the job had gone to the elegant Sergey Aleinikov, as we’ve already stated. Hopefully for him and his country, he would be able to mask his few weaknesses, and being well aware of his lack of pace, he would typically take out plenty of depth behind the rest of the defence.
Assisting Aleinikov in the centre was Oleg Kuznetsov, a player you would see as a machine in the way he carried out a central defensive task and defensive midfield job in one. Kuznetsov, still just 25, was a very well physically adapt player, capable of handling any big opponent on his own, both along the ground and in the air, and in addition he possessed very fine possession skills and good vision of the game. He knew when to play the ball on and also when to make advance into enemy territory. His ventures forward would invariably cause uncertainty among the opposition, and he was obviously a massive asset both to club and team with his presence. Not that he was much of a goalscorer. This was his 37th appearance for the Soviet Union, and he had yet to get off the mark.
Operating as the right-sided defender was big Lokomotiv Moscow man Sergey Gorlukovich, who had only recently come into the side. He’d come on at half-time in their second qualifier and not looked back since. He’d played in all three matches in their November friendly tour to the Middle East, and now Gorlukovich, possibly also adapt as a central defender due to his sheer size, was winning his fifth cap. He would perhaps not be the most elegant player when coming forward, but once he’d accelerated into speed, he’d take some stopping. He was also a hard nail when defending, and neither Bulgarian player would relish coming toe to toe with the 27 year old.
Opposite from Gorlukovich, as the left-back, was team captain Anatoly Demyanenko. Another member of Lobanovsky’s Dinamo Kiev side, and a well respected one at that, the two-footed player, almost equally at ease with either foot, had been a team regular since before the 1982 World Cup. Demyanenko had turned 30 two days earlier, but he showed few signs of slowing down. Still an enigma working up and down that flank of his, he would very much be another massive contributor to the Soviets’ tactics, both defensively and in going forward. This was his 77th international, and now, in the absence of Dasayev, he felt like the natural pick as the team’s captain.
In midfield, the visitors were operating with a more or less square quartet, where there was no clear responsibility in which player would take defensive turns and who would preferably support in attack. They had Gennady Litovchenko and Andrey Zygmantovich in the centre. Neither would play there if the team were at full strength, but it was not as if they meant a big decline in quality. Litovchenko, usually working along the midfield’s right hand side, was another quality player and someone whom you felt Lobanovsky would always put first or second when dotting down his eleven. He was perhaps a little more anonymous this afternoon in the centre, even if he’d already had a pop goalwards, albeit without much success.
Zygmantovich, who had filled in for the absent Kuznetsov in the 2-0 home qualifying win against Austria in October, also seemed very confident in everything he did, and doing it so effortlessly. Hardly a drama queen, he would rarely make the biggest headlines, but he would do a magnificent job for the collective anywhere in defence or midfield. Having performed admirably at the heart of their defence against the Austrians, he did likewise alongside Litovchenko now in midfield. Tracking back was one of his strengths, and he was someone you would not lose easily as an opponent. Also, he was equipped with a decent range of passing. Between them, this Soviet midfield duo had clocked up 68 caps.
With no Dobrovolsky in the squad, the left-sided midfield berth had gone to Vasily Rats. He might not be as outspoken when coming forward, but with a major asset in his left peg, he also knew what the role demanded of him. Rats was more than comfortable in this position, combining well with Demyanenko behind him. He was also responsible for right wing corners, which he would swing into the six yard area with his fine left boot. Who could forget Rats’ goal in the ’86 World Cup, when he scored a screamer in the 1-1 group stage draw with France? This was his 36th game for his country, and at 27 years, you felt that there was still plenty of years’ service left in his game.
Along the right hand side, Lobanovsky had brought back Ivan Yaremchuk for the 26 year old wide man’s 11th cap. He had featured during the 1986 World Cup, and even got on the scoresheet during their 6-0 humiliation of Hungary in the opening group stage game, but since then been a bit in and out, something which you felt was almost representative for a winger anyway. On his day, he would demand the ball and take a man on, but until the halfway point in the first half he had yet to be involved much. This was Yaremchuk’s first country appearance since featuring in a 4-1 defeat away to Italy early in ’88.
With no Aleksandr Zavarov available, Lobanovsky had had to come up with a different plan for the forward support role. Zavarov knew how to execute this position to perfection, though on this occasion it was Dinamo Moscow’s international debutant forward Aleksandr Borodyuk who would try to make the step up. Borodyuk was relatively powerfully built, so it did not come as a surprise that he was fairly decent in the air, but he was also not without qualities along the ground. He also had a fine burst of pace in him, and would accelerate beyond a man using speed rather than finesse. So far he had perhaps not got into the game as much as he’d have wanted, and perhaps was he adjusting to a new system and different team mates.
Oleg Protasov was the man to lead the Soviet line, and the recently turned 25 year old, a sixth starting member from Dinamo Kiev, was already making his 48th appearance for the Soviet Union. He might have looked a tad lanky, but he was not someone who would shirk away from a challenge, even against big, physical centre-backs, and he would run himself into the ground for the sake of the team. He’d scored twice in five games during last year’s European Championships, and he had been in or around the national team for five years already. Protasov’s pace also saw him gain the upper hand on many an occasion.
Just as the half is settling, Bulgaria move in front. They have enjoyed some early possession, and they’d also displayed what possible qualities lay in their counter-attacking play. This goal, however, doesn’t really come about as a result of either. They had seen a cross from Kostadinov, who had seemed lively to the right in attack, cleared by Aleinikov, although without too much conviction. Kostadinov had in the moments preceding the cross done well to win the ball from a sloppy Kuznetsov near the touchline, though he’d needed to take up position again when the ball got hoisted back into the area following Aleinikov’s clearance. Sadakov had retained it, and he aimed it high from the edge of the centre circle and into the box, where a huge leap from Kostadinov saw him get up well above Kuznetsov. Connecting with Sadakov’s high pass, the exciting Sredets forward guided a looping header just inside the left post, with Kharin desperately trying to get back in time to prevent the ball from entering the back of the net. He couldn’t. Kostadinov had got on the scoresheet for the second time in two internationals, and on viewing the replay from the goal, you notice how he gets a sidespin to the ball, enough to see it sneak in by the post. Terrific jump, great header. Bulgaria one-nil up.
There does appear to be a respond from the visitors, who might not have felt any urgency in mounting attacks hitherto, but once behind, it is as if they realize that they need to up their game are they to get anything out of it. They still fail to engage Yaremchuk along the right hand side, or is it perhaps so that the little schemer fails to get involved? The Soviets’ creativity is predominantly reserved for central areas, and after perhaps a slightly nervy start, we are beginning to see Borodyuk come more and more into play. He seems to bring unpredictability into their game, and he is starting to give evidence of better understanding with his team mates.
Protasov is another player who is clearly not happy about being behind. He attempts to stretch the Bulgarian defence with runs right and left, and realizing that Borodyuk is in the team on merit, Protasov also looks towards the Soviet number 9 in order to position himself in the area. Shortly after Kostadinov’s goal, it does look like Borodyuk even is denied a penalty, when Bezinski seems to foul him as he’s about to break through inside the area. Nothing’s given, and Protasov and a couple of team mates are livid with the referee. On 28 minutes, Protasov tries to feed the on-rushing Borodyuk the ball to the right inside the area, though as the debutant is about to pull the trigger, he can only see the tall Iliev come to the home side’s rescue as he boots it away for a Soviet right wing corner. Alas, Rats did not deliever as well as we knew he could with his flag-kicks.
As for Bulgaria
The home side had been bright early on, but once ahead, it seemed as though they were failing to cope with the increased pace from the visitors. It should also be added that the pitch was beginning to cut, particularly in central areas, and though it had not been perfect in the first place, the increasingly difficult pitch conditions did not seem to favour the hosts. They were, however, relying less on possession in and around the centre circle now they were ahead, so if anything, you’d have thought that it would play into the disadvantage of the more possession-orientated visitors that the playing surface was deteriorating.
Bulgaria had been seen in an ultra-attacking formation in their qualification opener, though manager Angelov had not been rewarded for his bravery (or tomfoolery, depending on the way you look at it), whereas he’d shown off another side to his game when they’d gone 5-3-2 in Denmark. This was more back to the Romania game, even if they were not quite as headless in midfield on this occasion, not committing two out of three midfielders forward at every opportunity, and also appearing fairly balanced with their full-backs.
In goal, Bulgaria had one of six starting CFKA Sredets players, and it appeared to be clear how 27 year old Iliya Valov was his country’s first choice. He’d only participated once during qualification for the 1988 European Championships, but Angelov’s growing faith in him seemed to be repaid, even if Valov was perhaps nothing too special. He’d arrived at CFKA prior to the current domestic season, something which could’ve benefitted his career at international level. Oddly, he seemed to have a knack of injuring himself. So far, though, he’d coped well, even if he’d not been truly tested despite the Soviets’ growing possessional advantage.
Ahead of him, Valov had two relatively modest full-backs in Krasimir Bezinski (right) and Iliyan Kiryakov. The latter seemed to be a highly energetic player, although you did feel that there was something about him which could turn into either dreadful defensive positioning or a woeful passing error at any moment. So far, he’d stuck admirably to his task, and he was going head to head with Yaremchuk, who yet had not been involved a lot. Along the right, Bezinski was a sturdy, reliable defender whose main strengths seemed to be inside his own half of the pitch. He was not as highly charged as his full-back compatriot, and he’d predominantly remain inside his own territory. Having both Rats and Demyanenko coming into his land, though, he could not allow himself to go AWOL.
In the centre of the hosts’ defence lay Pavel Dochev as libero. The 23 year old, of Lokomotiv Sofia, regarded at the time as the capital’s third best club after CFKA and Vitosha, was winning his ninth cap, and though he was capable of operating more or less anywhere across a back four or even back five, this was his chance to outshine the more acclaimed Nikolay Iliev for the spare man position. Iliev, the captain, had maybe failed to produce convincing performances so far in the qualification, but he was a big, bustling player, and someone whom the opposing strikers would rarely relish taking on. Dochev would operate somewhat behind Iliev and to the captain’s left. He would not be tasked with any one opponent in particular, whilst Iliev’s main responsibility was preventing the menacing Protasov from having a sniff.
Bulgaria had a holding midfielder in Trifon Ivanov. The 23 year old had been heavily involved with the national team since his scoring debut during the 1-1 draw with East Germany in April the previous year, and now he’d been moved up from his central defensive position in Denmark and into the midfield shielding position. He was one of the more combative Bulgarian players, always looking for an opportunity to get a tackle in, and against an opponent with so many skillful players, he would often get his way. However, in possession Ivanov had his limitations, something which he did appear to be aware of, as he would usually shift the ball on to a team mate. This player would more often than not be Ayan Sadakov, who was working in the inside right midfield position in their 4-3-3. He had been the central player among their three midfielders in the two qualifiers so far, though you felt that he would be able to use his strong engine better in an inside position. He’d taken his goal well in Denmark, and getting into goalscoring positions in the opposition’s box appeared to be something which Sadakov knew well how to do. Making his 76th appearance for Bulgaria, he was just a single cap behind Demyanenko in the away ranks.
The third player in the Bulgarian midfield was Etar’s Krasimir Balakov. 22 years of age he was clearly considered a massively talented player, though he was just about getting acquainted with the international climate, having made his debut as a late substitute in Copenhagen. He’d come on at half-time during the win in the United Arab Emirates in December, so this was his very first start. He was their inside left midfielder, but he operated more advanced than Sadakov across from him in midfield, and he would accept playmaking responsibility, often being the go-to man in transition phases. Balakov’s precise left foot would look to find a team mate in the centre from left-sided positions, and he was clearly a player which the large audience appreciated to watch in possession.
Up top were the trio from Sredets. They were naturally positioned with Stoichkov to the left, Penev in the centre, and with Kostadinov to the right. In particular the latter was hardworking. He’d only just come into the side for their trip to Sharjah, and now he was given the chance to impress his home crowd for the first time. Kostadinov put in plenty of effort and endeavour, and he was far from without skill when in possession. He could carry the ball at speed, and he was a constant threat along his right hand side, even if he was up against a player of the super-experienced Demyanenko’s calibre.
In the centre, Penev was operating slightly deeper than the other two forwards, at times resembling an advanced midfielder, though there should not be much doubt that he was a centre-forward. And he had a physical presence which brought the best out of his opponents, though in addition to that, he also had this clever-lazy look about him. He looked deceptively slow, though he had the knack of advancing beyond an opponent ball at feet through some clever foot work. Due to his lesser pace in comparison to his two forward mates, he would not play as active a role as Kostadinov and Stoichkov when there was a break on, but in regular play he was a vital figure in their set-up. He would also draw a yellow card from Aleinikov on 32 minutes: Penev was looking to make a burst through the centre after a long, booted clearance from Iliev, though Aleinikov used his international guile to foul him and earn himself a deserved booking in the process.
Stoichkov had not quite lived up to his billing in the two qualifiers hitherto, but his massive potential was still there for all to see. He had seemed to make that left-sided attacking berth his own by now, and Bulgaria were just looking for a little bit more in terms of consistency from him, and he would possibly be talked about throughout the continent. Whilst his right foot was just for support, his left foot was almost divine. When Bulgaria had Balakov approach opposition territory along the left hand side, Stoichkov would often move more towards central areas, and they would look quite formidable when sporting a four man strong attack.
When the equalizer occurs just after 33 minutes of play, it comes from the Soviets’ finest attack so far in the contest. They had won a free-kick just inside the hosts’ half of the pitch after Iliev had raised his foot on Rats, and in the moments which followed the short free-kick, they worked the ball to the edge of the Bulgarian area through Zygmantovich, who had managed to advance past Ivanov. Feeding it low to Protasov, the Soviet striker was probably fouled by Iliev on the edge of the area as he passed it on to Litovchenko, who in turn was able to burst into the area from the right. In advancing on the ball, he fired a low cross into the centre before Kiryakov could get a tackle in. Valov failed to get to it, though this was due to Dochev attempting to boot it away, and the collision saw the ball break free for Borodyuk, who quickly spun around and found the back of the net just inside the right hand post. Despite not creating any clear cut opportunities before the goal, the Soviets were worthy of their equalizer.
Rounding off the half
Through to half time, the game is probably not beset with the highest level of pace, but there comes a massive opportunity the hosts’ way when Gorlukovich and Rats get in each other’s way just inside the Bulgarian half of the pitch. Suddenly, a whole lot of space opens up for Kostadinov along the right hand side, and darting towards the byline in a 40 yard sprint, he proceeds to play it low into the centre, where both Stoichkov and Penev have positioned themselves. So too, however, has Aleinikov, and though the ball reaches Stoichkov in the centre, he can not get a shot away, instead having to attempt a difficult pass to Penev, who is too close to him. Aleinikov’s presence has made it difficult for the two strikers, and though the ball seems to fall for Penev, he can also not get his shot away before Kharin’s almost right upon him, and the ‘keeper dents the effort. Clever play by the Soviet libero, and ultimately a fine goalkeeping effort from Kharin, but the indecision from Stoichkov seemed a little surprising in the circumstances.
At the other end, some more possession play from the visitors almost sees Litovchenko feed Borodyuk through on goal with a clever pass, but the Soviet goalscorer’s flagged off, even if it had been a marginal decision. A couple of long distance efforts from Demyanenko and Yaremchuk follow before the referee sounds his whistle for half time, with 30 seconds of additional time having been played. It had been a sound spectacle so far, and with the score tied at one apiece, it would certainly make for an interesting second half.
After a relatively open affair during the first half, where the teams had both had spells of initiative, one could probably expect a few changes during the course of the second half. Had either manager made any substitutions at half-time already?
The Soviets had shown glimpses of their high level of capability even with a good few regulars missing. Perhaps had their general mobility not been of the same standards as when they could sport a strongest eleven, but their midfield had more than held its own, even if some of the home players, most notably Ivanov and Sadakov, had shown fine battling desire. They had also given little examples of their attacking sting, something which the visitors clearly would need to attend to as the game progressed.
With both sets of players ready to go again, and with Bulgaria’s Stoichkov and Penev prepared to restart the game, one could see how the Soviets had made two half-time changes. There had been a change of goalkeepers, with Viktor Chanov taking over for Dmitry Kharin, a switch which one could possibly assume had been agreed beforehand. Also, there was no Sergey Gorlukovich to see, and perhaps was this motivated by attacking ideas as 1986 World Cup hero Igor Belanov had come on in his place?
The early phase of the second period is once again an open affair where play switches from one side to another. There’s quite a lot of space for both teams to make use of, and one senses that a match picture like this will result in opportunities both ways. What is also noticeable, is the fact that the Soviets have brought striker Belanov into play for a defender, and this has brought some reshuffling. Captain Demyanenko had switched from left-back, where he had often come up against the lively Kostadinov during the first half, to the right-sided full-back position, whilst Rats had made the step back to defence from his wide left midfield role in the first half. Yaremchuk, who had lived a quiet life along the right hand side of midfield in the first 45 had now come across to the left, whilst Litovchenko, operating as one of two central midfielders before the break, was now back in his favoured wide right role. Belanov took up a position up top alongside Protasov, and by first glance you did get the impression that he was acting more as another centre-forward rather than someone working in the hole behind Protasov, like Borodyuk had done in the first half. Speaking of the debutant: He had impressed from 20 minutes and onwards, and had now been given a new position in central midfield alongside Zygmantovich. How would this all pan out?
On 48 minutes, Litovchenko gets to load his weapon when he takes on a short free-kick from Zygmantovich almost 30 yards out after Protasov has been fouled by Iliev. The now wide midfield man hits it well, but Valov has it watched all the way, and the ‘keeper is able to gather it safely at what was really a perfect height for any goalkeeper. This was the visitors’ only second effort on target since the start of the game, so perhaps had Lobanovsky wanted more of a ‘shoot on sight’ policy for the final 45 minutes?
Bulgaria, with plenty of attacking power in their side, had given examples of how their front three were able to combine in the first half, and they should really have gone ahead on 38 minutes when Kostadinov had found Stoichkov and Penev in the centre with that low cross. That attack, however, would pale into insignificance in comparison to what the hosts dished out next: There’s some really delightful one-touch football involving several players deep inside the Soviets’ half which will end with Stoichkov releasing Ivanov, of all people, to cut into the area from a central left position. The holding midfielder’s first touch is a disappointing one, though, and it takes him further wide than he’d have wanted, and he opts to rush a strike towards goal with his left foot once Chanov has come off his line to close him down. Ivanov can’t even get his shot at goal, and it ends up in the side-netting. The speed with which they’d shifted the ball around had been impressive, and the visitors had not managed to get near enough their opponents until Ivanov’s finish.
Slick Soviets go in front
While the Soviet Union had performed several positional swaps between various players, they still expressed themselves at a sound level out on the pitch. You could not really see that this was a team which had been exposed to heavy surgery during the interval, and though they had not at all looked out of sorts during the opening 45 minutes, they sure were no inferior in these early second half stages. They passed and moved as if it was the most commonplace event you could think of, even if circumstances must have been testing, and add to that also the pitch which was looking increasingly cut, especially in central areas.
With just over nine minutes of the second half gone, they move in front. It was an attack which had begun with Kuznetsov feeding it short for Rats just inside the Bulgarian half, and the latter, now playing in the left-sided full-back position, darted forward whilst on the ball. He spotted Belanov having made a fine run inside the area to the left, where he’d also dragged the home side’s left-back Bezinski (yes: Kiryakov and Bezinski had swapped full-back positions for the start of the second half, with the former now at right-back and Bezinski to the left) with him, and Rats fed Belanov a ball to his feet, with the striker cleverly back-heeling it into the path of the on-rushing Rats, who in turn struck it low first time with that left foot of his. Not that it was hit with such venom as previously seen from him, but it still found its way into the back of the net via the arm of Valov, who was unable to stop it. 1-2. It was Rats’ fourth goal for his country.
Strong front three
Bulgaria were not particularly compact in the centre of the pitch, where they’d often surrender advantage to their visitors. Still, due to the brilliance of their forward trio, they would always pose a threat when arriving well inside the Soviet half, as the away team struggled to contain all three forwards. Penev would move smartly, and sometimes out towards left-sided territory, while Kostadinov would cause havoc with runs both on and off the ball. As for Stoichkov, he was now not foreign to dropping somewhat deeper to try and orchestrate something for his two fellow forwards, and still there was Balakov in his advanced midfield position also present, even if he was probably not as much involved as he had been in the opening half. The idea behind the positional switch for the full-backs was probably just that Angelov wanted to see what Bezinski was capable of on the left hand side. Both he and Kiryakov were right-footed players, and so perhaps there was a slight lack of balance to their defensive line. In the centre, even Dochev and Iliev prefered to use their right foot.
The Soviet midfield looked something else now that they had the energy of Borodyuk through the centre. He would make runs on the ball, either looking for one of the strikers with a pass or he would take a man on as he did with Bezinski in a fine raid along the right hand side. This would originally leave Zygmantovich somewhat alone and exposed through the centre, but with Kuznetsov moving a step or two higher in the pitch from his already advanced centre-back position, it still felt like the Soviets were with a numerical advantage at times.
Litovchenko had been more stationary in that central midfield before the break, but now out wide he seemed to thrive better, even if he, too, could’ve been used more often by his team mates. As for Yaremchuk, who had been switched over to the left hand side after the half-time break, well, he could still not get into any rhythm, and he remained a peripheral figure for the visitors until Lobanovsky decided to withdraw him for left-sided defender Aleksey Cherednik on 58 minutes. This, incidentally, marked the international debut for the 28 year old Dnepr Dnepropetrovsk man. With Cherednik on, it was time for Rats to move back into the wide left midfield position which he’d originally held.
Further attampts and a substitution
Around the hour mark there’s efforts for both sides, and it is the Bulgarians who twice test the mettle of Chanov through strikes from Stoichkov and Kostadinov respectively. They’d worked the ball around sweetly again for the former of the two strikes, whilst Kostadinov’s effort was more of an opportunistic one. His was also the harder, but as it arrived straight at the ‘keeper, Chanov had few difficulties in collecting. Down the other end, Bulgaria are almost punished for having switched off when Rats feeds a long ball from inside his own half in the direction of Protasov, who has escaped the attention of Iliev for once. Bezinski, though, had made a superb recovery-tackle to see the ball away for a left wing corner as the striker had pulled the trigger only 12 yards away from goal. Perhaps in order to restore some shape to his midfield did Angelov next withdraw Balakov for Georgi Yordanov, another fine midfield player with playmaking skills. It seemed to be a like for like switch.
More substitutions and a caution
Further substitutions will soon be made, one for either side, and Angelov decides to withdraw even his second inside midfielder, Sadakov, as he turns to debutant Nikolay Todorov on 65 minutes. Yordanov, who had made his entrance a few minutes earlier, had already been in possession a couple of times, and also had time to hit a low strike on goal, but there had been no conviction behind his effort, which was straight at Chanov.
Among the opposition, Rats had been seen covering central areas in the last few minutes. It had seemed to be an attempt from Lobonovsky to further gain control of midfield, as the second half continued to be something of a see-saw affair. With Rats having a spell in the centre, no player made the switch out to the left-sided position of midfield, as Zygmantovich continued in his original position. The latter, though, would be the fourth Soviet man to come off, as Lobanovsky brought on another debutant in the shape of Andrey Kalaychev, a 25 year old from Dinamo Moscow.
There had been a big opportunity again for the hosts just in the wake of this last substitution, when a free-kick swung into the area from the left, where taker Kostadinov by now seemed to operate, with Stoichkov having made the switch across to the right, was not properly cleared by Rats, whose header only ricochetted off Iliev and fell invitingly for Ivanov, who all of a sudden was one on one with Chanov. However, the midfield man could only strike it into the body of the big ‘keeper as Chanov flung himself at the ball, and another chance went begging for the home side. Penev, who felt he should’ve had a penalty for being held back by Kuznetsov, protested heavily to the referee, who in turn proceeded to award the striker the game’s second yellow card. In fact, we do not see the actuall card displayed, but Penev’s strong verbal protests are obvious, and once the referee’s back on camera, he’s seen tucking something, the yellow card, surely, back into his chest pocket.
The 50 000 strong crowd do get their money’s worth; the second half is an entertaining spectacle. The visitors might be in front, but you never feel that they’re totally in control, as there have been a couple of sloppy moments in their defensive play. Bulgaria seem particularly difficult to contain at set-pieces, and that recent opportunity for Ivanov could so easily have been a goal. That said, though, it is equally dangerous down the other end when the Soviets get going. In switching Demyanenko across to the right and moving Litovchenko out wide right from central midfield, Lobanovsky can work a well-known combination, and the pair seem pleased to be playing next to one another again. Litovchenko releases Demyanenko for a right wing cross, which Borodyuk will eventually feed back for Rats to have another go with his left foot. On 73 minutes, the second Soviet goalscorer strikes it right at Valov, who again was fortunate to receive it exactly in the right height. Then, less than two minutes on, it is the Litovchenko/Demyanenko combination which once again works in favour of the visitors, as the midfielder plays a fine ball for the full-back to run on to inside the area. He sidesteps Iliev and takes aim at goal left footed from 14 yards, only to see his shot blocked by Valov. Big opportunity!
In the Bulgarian camp, both substitutes, Yordanov and Todorov, had slotted into the respective positions of the players which they had replaced. Yordanov seemed eager to make an impression, and he’d had a couple of pops at goal, albeit nothing which had duly troubled Chanov. Todorov had made a fine run into the area to feed off a short pass from Penev, though he’d arrived too wide for his shot, which went wide of the upright on 79 minutes.
There’s still plenty of time for the hosts to get that equalizer, though as the game is entering its final phase, you do get a feeling that there will be fewer opportunities either way. The Soviet Union had brought Kalaychev on in what appeared to be a defensive midfield position, and he would drop back into the defensive line when the hosts were attacking. With the visitors in possession, Kalaychev would sit deep in midfield. Also, there was not much more forward roaming from Kuznetsov, who had probably been instructed to remain back. The Soviets were by now looking to counter attack rather than gain momentum through possession, and with Protasov and Belanov up front, they appeared to have the legs to utilise this kind of tactics. Having said that, though, Belanov goes down with what appears to be cramp (!) after an effort on 82 minutes. It had opened up for him on the edge of the area, but he’d completely misfired, and went to the ground, needing treatment. It might have been a combination of hurt pride (due to the awful quality on the ‘shot’ which he’d just attempted) and weary legs. Belanov was possibly not in his best shape, even if he had been a willing runner off the ball since coming on.
In the Bulgarian camp, both substitutes, Yordanov and Todorov, had slotted into the respective positions of the players which they had replaced. Yordanov seemed eager to make an impression, and he’d had a couple of pops at goal, albeit nothing which had duly worried Chanov. Todorov had made a fine run into the area to feed off a short pass from Penev, though he’d arrived too wide for his shot, which went beyond the upright on 79 minutes.
The Bulgarians are right in the match through to the final seconds, and they keep putting pressure on the Soviet defence, which at times leads a charmed life. There’s no further saves by Chanov to be made, though the ‘keeper displays his uncertainty from a deep Penev cross from the left towards the far post. Todorov arrived unmarked. Chanov had come out to try and claim, and then retreated back, realizing that he would never get there. The ‘keeper was fortunate that Todorov connected poorly, and it went behind for a final goal kick.
There is exactly a minute of added time. Upon the final whistle, the Soviet players are clearly pleased to have won, but there’s absolutely no reason for the Bulgarian players to feel ashamed. They’d put in a good performance, and they could look forward to the encounter with West Germany next month with optimism. As for the Soviets, they’d welcome back several players who had been absent for when they travelled to play the Netherlands, also next month.
The first half started a bit hesitant, but both sides grew into the contest, and the lively Kostadinov gave Bulgaria the lead with a superb header. It did not last that long, as debutant Borodyuk, who went on to have a fine game, tucked home the equalizer 12 minutes later. The second half was an even more open affair than the first, and there were opportunities at either end after Rats had given the Soviets the lead with a shot from inside the area after a sweet backheel from Belanov. Both ‘keepers saved their teams from further concession. It was a fine away win for a depleated Soviet side, while Bulgaria would’ve felt that they’d done enough to earn a share of the spoils.
To round off, here’s what West Germany boss Franz Beckenbauer said to Bulgarian TV:
“I think we’ve seen a fine, exciting game played at good pace so far. Bulgaria impress me; they have several good players, they create opportunities, and perhaps they’d deserve a draw.”
The interviewer then asks what Beckenbauer has learnt from this game:
“That we’re coming up against a strong opponent. We were looking for strong opposition to prepare for our crucial qualifier against the Netherlands, and we’ve found one in Bulgaria.”
Lastly, the interviewer asks what he’d tell the Bulgarian players to salvage a draw in the on-going match:
“Score a goal!”
1 Valov 6.8
could perhaps have done better for the second goal. Other than that a fine stop from Demyanenko, and a couple of comfortable saves after shots from distance
2 Kiryakov 6.8
applied himself well defensively along both flanks: left in the first half, right in the second
3 Dochev 6.9
the spare man acquitted himself well, and tidied up behind his fellow defenders on a couple of occasions
4 Bezinski 6.8
defensively committed, and probably better along the right hand side before the break
5 Iliev 7.0
tussled with Protasov all game, and came out with some credit
6 Ivanov 7.1
full of battle, and also arrived at two fine goalscoring opportunities
7 Kostadinov 7.2
great jump for his headed goal, and also quick and direct along the ground
8 Sadakov 6.8
plenty of endeavour, but often struggled with the quality of the opposition. Assisted for Kostadinov’s goal
(16 Todorov –
a somewhat more advanced role than his predecessor, though not highly influental on his debut)
9 Penev 6.9
sound on the ball, but not so interested in chasing
10 Balakov 6.9
showed glimpses of promise, but did not engage enough
(15 Yordanov 7.0
quite influental after coming on, and might feel he’s earned a starting place for their next game)
11 Stoichkov 7.0
quite a lot involved, though not as precise as he ought to have been
1 Kharin 6.9
it is possible to question his positioning for the goal, though other than that gives an assured and confident impression. Bravely down at Penev’s feet late in the half
(16 Chanov 6.8
almost caught out from high cross late on. Displayed a couple of big jumps, and made a few routine stops)
2 Gorlukovich 6.9
(14 Belanov 6.6
rarely successful with his initiatives, but at least assisted for the USSR’s second goal)
3 Aleinikov 7.0
decent job as the spare man, though could perhaps have asserted himself more in coming forward
4 Kuznetsov 7.1
set off impressively, but less influental as the game wore on
5 Demyanenko 7.1
commanding performance, even if he was challenged by Kostadinov’s pace before the break
6 Rats 7.1
always a reliable performer, showed he’s well capable of playing as full-back and in wide midfield. Matchwinner with his goal
7 Yaremchuk 6.3
could not get into the game, and a switch of flanks for the start of the second half did not help
(13 Cherednik 6.7
remained inside his own half, where he was reliable along the left)
8 Litovchenko 7.1
great quality. Probably more comfortable along the right in the second half than he had been in a central role before the break
9 Borodyuk 7.3
after a somewhat slow start, he showed his capability with fine bursts on the ball. Also displayed opportunism for his goal. Grew into the Zavarov role, and then filled in commandably in centre midfield for the second half
10 Protasov 6.8
could’ve scored in the second half but for a Bezinski block, but was generally kept in check by Iliev
11 Zygmantovich 7.2
a fine balancing act in central midfield
(12 Kalaychev –
steady if unspectacular as the balancing midfield act after coming on for his debut)