Bulgaria – West Germany

International Friendly
Wed. 22 March 1989
Vasil Levski, Sofia
Att.: 30,000
Video: goals

Bulgaria 1 – 2 West Germany
1-0 (46) Nikolay Iliev
1-1 (72) Rudi Völler
1-2 (86) Pierre Littbarski 

Ref.: Mr Dušan Krchňák


Written by: kaltz


Having seen a narrow defeat at the hands of big neighbour Soviet Union just over a month earlier, Bulgaria had organized a second spring friendly against a leading footballing nation with West Germany coming to Sofia. With the visit of Denmark only just over a month away, Mr Angelov needed to establish a unit which could provide the coming Nordic visitors with another stern test.

Sredets defender Trifon Ivanov was suspended for the upcoming qualification match, so the manager chose to include midfielder Ivaylo Kirov from the same club in the starting eleven instead, thus altering his formation from 5-3-2 to 4-3-3. This would be the only change in the team that had taken to the field against the USSR. The exciting Sredets strike force of Kostadinov, Stoichkov and Penev would get their second successive international together.

Visiting West Germany, whose disappointment of not making it through to the final of the European Championships on home soil in the summer of ’88 was by now firmly behind them, were preparing for already their second qualification meeting with strong rivals Holland late in April. They had been held to a scoreless home draw against the Dutch in October, and both teams had begun their Group 4 campaign with three points from a possible four. It was unlikely that Mr Beckenbauer would demand anything less than 100 % effort from his players against Bulgaria, surely well aware of the fact that coming to Sofia is never an easy venue. Their starting eleven saw only two changes from the team which had opened the 0-0 match against the Netherlands in Munich: Midfielder Olaf Thon had been dropped and been replaced by exciting young Dortmund player Andy Möller, and ‘Kalle’ Riedle had been brought into the forward line to replace the absent Jürgen Klinsmann, with the latter possibly carrying a slight knock. He’d been withdrawn a minute from the end in the Milan derby the previous weekend (Internazionale had won the ‘away’ tie 3-1), though he’d complete the full 90 and even score twice in a 7-2 home massacre of Atalanta three days later. Klinsmann’s absence appeared to be for precautionary measures. Beckenbauer had brought a huge squad with him, with no less than ten substitutes.

It was no surprise to see Danish international boss Sepp Piontek present, whereas Romania manager Emeric Jenei had sent his assistant Cornel Drăguşin to spy on Bulgaria, whom they would face in Bucharest in May.

Bulgaria (4-3-3)

1 Iliya Valovsub h-tCFKA Sredets
2 Iliyan Kiryakovsub 74′Etar
3 Pavel DochevLokomotiv Sofia
4 Krasimir BezinskiCFKA Sredets
5 Nikolay Iliev (c)Vitosha
6 Ivaylo Kirovsub 59′CFKA Sredets
7 Emil KostadinovCFKA Sredets
8 Ayan SadakovLokomotiv Plovdiv
9 Lyubo PenevCFKA Sredets
10 Krasimir Balakovsub 74′Etar
11 Hristo StoichkovCFKA Sredets

12 Nikolay Donevon h-tEtar
13 Trifon Ivanovon 74′CFKA Sredets
14 Nikolay Todorovon 59′Lokomotiv Sofia
17 Kiril Metkovon 74′Lokomotiv Sofia
Manager: Boris Angelov

West Germany (4-4-2)

1 Bodo IllgnerKöln
2 Thomas BertholdVerona
3 Andreas BrehmeInter Milan
4 Jürgen KohlerKöln
5 Holger Fachsub h-tBayer Uerdingen
6 Guido BuchwaldStuttgart
7 Karl-Heinz RiedleWerder Bremen
8 Andreas MöllerBorussia Dortmund
9 Rudi VöllerRoma
10 Lothar Matthäus (c)Inter Milan
11 Thomas HäßlerKöln

16 Pierre Littbarskion h-t28Köln
x Raimond Aumann25Bayern München
x Matthias Herget33Bayer Uerdingen
x Stefan Reuter22Bayern München
x Michael Schulz27Kaiserslautern
x Günter Hermann28Werder Bremen
x Olaf Thon22Bayern München
x Wolfgang Rolff29Bayer Leverkusen
x Dieter Eckstein25Nürnberg
x Frank Mill30Borussia Dortmund
Manager: Franz Beckenbauer

Tactical line-ups

At times Iliev would take out a bit of depth behind Dochev, but not on a regular basis. To most people’s surprise, Kirov was the holding midfielder rather than Sadakov. Of the three up front, Penev was down the middle, and at times coming pretty deep to avoid the attention of Kohler, whereas Stoichkov mainly kept himself to the right hand side, with Kostadinov on the opposite side. However, towards the latter parts of the opening half, they would swap sides, at least momentarily.

The West Germans played more or less a diamond-shaped 4-4-2, with Fach sitting in the holding midfield role, and with Matthäus and Möller doing the errand boy running. Häßler was the most forward of the four midfield players, seeking himself both to the right and to the left more than he was seen through the middle. At the back, Buchwald was clearly sweeping behind Kohler. Both full-backs, in great West German tradition, were not given much restrictions in their forward play.

After all substitutions have been made:

The only West German substitution finds place at half time, when the eager Littbarski has replaced holding midfielder Fach, prompting a switch in formation, with Matthäus coming somewhat deeper, and with Möller in front of him. Häßler will stay on the right hand side, with “Litti” originally out left. However, Möller will also appear to the left of midfield at times, with Littbarski coming into the attacking central role, and it is indeed from this position that the experienced Köln player will score the winning goal.

As for Bulgaria, Donev replaced the stricken Valov at half time. The first outfield switch was when Todorov replaced deep-lying Kirov in another straight swap, before Metkov was given his debut in place of the tiring Balakov, indeed taking the Etar midfielder’s place. At the same time, Ivanov replaces right back Kiryakov, which means Dochev takes over Kiryakov’s position, with Ivanov slotting into the middle alongside or just ahead of Iliev. Also worth noting that for the second half, Stoichkov and Kostadinov would indeed swap sides permanently, with Stoichkov seen on the left hand side throughout.

Match Report

First half
It becomes clear very early on that both teams treat the game as seriously as were it a qualifier, because tackles come flying in and intensity is high. Bulgaria aim to stand up to the test; they put pressure on West Germany inside the visitors’ half. The forward three of Penev, Kostadinov and Stoichkov may not appear to be all that eager in pressurizing early on, but they will receive instructions from the sidelines, and as the half progresses, even they contribute in chasing and harrying the visitors, who are never given a moment’s peace to settle on the ball. But it is likewise for West Germany: They have no intention of letting Bulgaria enjoy possession without applying pressure, so most of the opening half is a stalemate. There is a lot of tough challenges, but to the players’ credit they only have in mind to let play continue. The referee even deserves credit for letting the game flow instead of using his whistle unnecessarily. This was indeed a much improved performance from Mr Krchňák from what he had given when in charge of Greece v Denmark a good few months earlier.

The home side play into the wind during the first half. They appear with a square defensive line, and they have a balancing central midfielder in Kirov, with Sadakov and Balakov doing the running. In particular Balakov seems eager to stamp his authority on proceedings, and he tries to feed either of his forward three, although West Germany are strong at the back. As you would have expected. They play with Buchwald as the sweeper, and with Kohler appearing at centre half, originally set out to keep Penev in check. However, as the half progresses, Penev drops deeper, and so frees himself from his marker. Indeed, it will instead be the West German defensive midfielder Fach who will try to pick up Penev. Stoichkov starts out on the right hand side, with Kostadinov to the left of the forward three. However, the two wider forwards will shift positions now and then. The home side’s midfield stands up well to the strong visiting players, so there is not a lot of space for neither Möller nor Matthäus in which to dictate. Völler seems the more eager of the two West Germany forwards to make runs off the ball, and he cuts an impressive first half figure, does the Roma striker.

Stoichkov comes the closest when he strikes a left-foot free kick via Illgner’s crossbar and over on 12 minutes. The ‘keeper would have been nowhere near it had the ball dipped under the bar. A quarter of an hour later Sadakov also hits the crossbar with an effort from distance, but the referee had spotted an infringement just as the ball had left the midfielder’s left foot. Stoichkov also has another attempt when Balakov makes it to the left-sided byline and pulls the ball back, but the Sredets man’s shot is low and not very hard, and goes straight into the arms of Illgner. Down the opposite end, a Fach header from a flicked corner is about as close as West Germany get, whilst Völler mishits a shot from inside the area after being played in by Riedle. These efforts are exceptions: The first half is predominantly a midfield affair. Angelov should be pleased by half time after the effort his players had showed.

Second half
If the opening half was one with lots of aggression from both sides, then what happens in the latter 45 will be a fairly mundane story in comparison. Bulgaria chose to sit deeper than they had been doing, obviously hoping that their forward three can cause the visitors a lot of trouble on their own. This succeeds the wonder goal scored by big defender Iliev only a minute into the second half: Stoichkov plays him in with a ball at chest height, and he takes it down expertly and fires a left-footed shot low to the right of the despairing Illgner from the edge of the box. Iliev’s goal is a beauty, and it would have been a proud moment for any forward, let alone a defender. So immediately, Angelov puts the new tactics into effect. It is impossible to say whether their same deep lines would have applied had they not scored so early after the restart.

Beckenbauer has made a switch at half time, with the energetic Littbarski replacing Fach, who had had an ok half in the holding midfield role, but clearly the manager wanted to see a more attacking second half display. And then they go behind right after the commence of the second period. West Germany seem unfazed. They seize the initiative, helped by the fact that the home side chose to sit deeper, but also with some enterprising play both by sub Littbarski and also the lively Häßler down the other flank. Bulgaria are rarely able to break out from their own half, and if they do, it is with little conviction and usually through just one or two players on their own. The much talked-about Sredets forward line had at times looked dangerous with Balakov feeding them during the first 45 minutes, but in the second half they would be more left to their own devices. Balakov was unable to reproduce what he had showed, at least in glimpses, during the first half, and Sadakov, who had also showed some promise before the break, was more static in the final 45. Angelov tried to mix things up a bit in midfield bringing on Todorov for Kirov, but one switch alone could far from trouble the West Germans.

Only about 18 minutes into the second half, Bulgaria defender Dochev goes to the ground with cramp. How he will later manage to complete the match at right back is an interesting question, although he is hardly one of an attacking nature. He’s pulled out into the right back position because central defender Ivanov has been brought on for Kiryakov, the original right back who seemed interesting going forward, but whose defending had on a couple of occasions left a bit to be desired. Then again, Kiryakov had after the break been up against Littbarski, and the West German substitute clearly had intentions of showing his worth to the team. It is his assist that finds the head of Völler for 1-1: He gets enough time to prepare with his right foot a cross into the area, and the Roma forward is left surprisingly alone, with no Bulgarian defender keeping a watch on him. This incenses both Balakov and Stoichkov, who are adamant that Völler is offside, and so complain at length to the linesman. The ref has none of it. The goal stands. West Germany, despite not creating an awful lot of clear cut opportunities, have forced themselves back into the match, just like you would expect a side of their stature to do.

Bulgaria were not able to find back to the same aggression levels which they had been showing before the break, and the visitors would continue to be camped inside of the hosts’ half. There is a moment of aggression from West German captain and star player Matthäus, who commits quite a nasty foul on Kostadinov just inside the visitors’ half. The referee really should have booked the Inter ace. This will eventually be succeeded by possibly the best spell of pressure from the home side in the whole of the second half, with Stoichkov active, trying to play Kostadinov through on the right hand side. The latter races past Kohler, brings the ball into the penalty area, and then appears to be brought down by the big defender. However, again Mr Krchňák lets play continue. The claims for penalty were somewhat muted, but it would not have been completely wrong had the Czechoslovakian official put the whistle to his mouth.

“Football is a game that lasts for 90 minutes, and at the end the Germans win”. That is a famous Gary Lineker quote. And boy was he right for this match, with Littbarski firing home a left-footed winner from distance a mere five minutes from time. The ball had come into his path following Dochev’s tackle on Riedle just outside the penalty area, and the shot sliced towards Donev’s left hand post, with the ‘keeper probably wrong-footed. Team Chef Beckenbauer will have been pleased with how his team managed to turn the score around and win in what was a difficult match on a bumpy pitch and in windy conditions.