Bulgaria – Greece
Ref.: Mr Rolf Blattmann
L 1: Arturo Martino
L 2: Hans Wenger
Written by: kaltz
Both Bulgaria and Greece were left without any chance whatsoever to reach the World Cup, so their two final matches, both against one another, were not of any significance to the final standings. However, there was a lot of pride at stake for both countries, and finishing bottom of the group will not have been an option for either country.
Bulgaria had three weeks earlier been in Cesena for a friendly against next year’s World Cup hosts Italy. They had been soundly beaten, but had not been as poor as the 4-0 scoreline would suggest. However, their one draw and five defeats from the total amount of six fixtures in 1989 suggested they were hardly putting world football alight, and they could do with a confidence boost. The return of one point from their four qualifying matches was seen as a big disappointment, and especially losing at home to both Denmark and rivals Romania had been poor results. This had lead to the sacking of manager Boris Angelov, and well-known Ivan Vutsov, who had been in charge of the national team from September ’82 until after the ’86 World Cup, had taken over the reigns. He’d so far seen a 1-1 draw in East Germany and that heavy defeat in Italy.
Greece had also shown poor form throughout 1989, and had had a managerial change of their own with Antonis Georgiadis taking over from Alekos Sofianidis. Georgiadis’ run as national team manager had yielded two draws and four defeats from six, so it was obvious that both teams were on poor runs coming into the tie. On the same night as Bulgaria’s defeat in Cesena, Greece had lost 3-0 to Yugoslavia in Novi Sad, and this only two weeks after an identically heavy defeat in Warsaw against Poland.
Bulgaria had used a large number of players from their opening four qualifying ties: 27. This was six more than Greece with 21. Only the emerging talent of forward Hristo Stoichkov had participated in all four matches. For their previous qualifier, the 1-0 defeat against Romania in Bucharest, Mr Angelov had introduced five new players into the starting line-up. Without any level of consistency, it is difficult to put together good results. Mr Vutsov had to address this problem and pick a core of players that he thought could do a good job both for the remainder of this qualification and indeed coming into the next one, the qualifiers for the 1992 European Championships in Sweden. A further four players were added to the Bulgarian list of selectees, taking their total numbers into 31. These were: right-back Emil Dimitrov, who had also played in the Italy defeat, which was his first cap in nearly four years, his third in total. Then there was centre-back Kalin Bankov, a player Mr Vutsov had brought into the side after he had returned as national team manager, and who against Greece would feature in the third of three matches under the “new” boss. Bankov had been used as a defensive midfielder in Italy, but would claim a centre back role here with influential captain Nikolay Iliev out of the team; Iliev was likely to be a big miss. CSKA midfielder Georgi Georgiev was the third player previously not in action during these World Cup qualifiers, here winning only his second cap after also featuring in the 1-1 draw in East Germany, and the fourth was Bozhidar Iskrenov, the experienced Vitosha midfield man who had started two out of three World Cup matches in 1986. He had been outside the national team for more than a year. Iskrenov was on the verge of a move to Spanish football.
Greece’ last qualifier had been the 7-1 defeat in Copenhagen. Only four players who had been starters on that night in Denmark would start here in Sofia: defenders Khatziathanasiou and Mavridis, midfielder Tsiantakis and wide man/forward Saravakos. Goalkeeper Plitsis had taken over for Oikonomopoulos, and he had also been keeping goal in the two most recent matches, the 3-0 defeats in Poland and in Yugoslavia. Central defender Vakalopoulos had also featured in Yugoslavia, whereas left-back Koutoulas had not been in action for Greece since the 4-1 home defeat by the same Yugoslavians in April. AEK stalwart Papaiouannou would take over Tsaloukhidis’ role at the rear of the Greek midfield, his first international for almost two years. Further ahead of him in midfield, Stamatis would win his third cap, having also featured in the 0-0 draw in Norway and the 3-0 defeat in Yugoslavia. Dimitriadis, a striker, had been called back into the squad having also featured during the 3-0 defeat in Poland, winning his sixth cap. Another Georgiadis favourite appeared to be Savvas Kofidis, who had also been a regular in the August and September friendlies. Having made his debut back in 1982, this was the Olympiakos man’s 49th cap. No less than seven players were making their first appearance of the 1990 World Cup qualifiers, taking the number of Greek players used to 28 in five matches.
Referee was 45 year old Swiss Rolf Blattmann, and this would be his first ever qualifying match. His only international appearance to date had been a 0-0 friendly between Holland and Belgium more than two years earlier.
From 19 previous encounters, Bulgaria had won ten, six had ended in draws, whereas the Greeks had only three times won against today’s opponents. Their last meeting had been a friendly on Greek soil almost to the day four years earlier, with Bulgaria winning 2-0. Three survivors from that match were Greek starters here (Mavridis, Papaiouannou and Kofidis), and Bulgaria had two players in their starting line-up who had participated back then (Valov and Iskrenov). Greece’ last triumph against the Bulgarians had come as far back as in 1974, when they had won 2-1 in a qualifying match for the 1976 European Championships in Yugoslavia.
Torrential rain had totally drenched the pitch, which would resemble a quagmire as the game wore on. Around the time of kick-off, it was around 15-16 degrees.
|1 Iliya Valov||27||CFKA Sredets|
|2 Emil Dimitrov||29||CFKA Sredets|
|3 Trifon Ivanov||59′||24||CFKA Sredets|
|4 Vasil Tinchev||29′||31||Sliven|
|5 Kalin Bankov||21′||24||Etar|
|6 Georgi Yordanov||sub 85′||26||Vitosha|
|7 Emil Kostadinov||sub 64′||22||CFKA Sredets|
|8 Hristo Stoichkov (c)||23||CFKA Sredets|
|9 Krasimir Balakov||23||Etar|
|10 Georgi Georgiev||52′||26||CFKA Sredets|
|11 Bozhidar Iskrenov||41′||27||Vitosha|
|12 Nikolay Donev||31||Etar|
|13 Pavel Dochev||24||Lokomotiv Sofia|
|14 Yordan Lechkov||on 85′||22||Sliven|
|15 Lyubo Penev||on 64′||23||Valencia|
|16 Kostadin Yanchev||26||CFKA Sredets|
|1 Giorgos Plitsis||26||Iraklis|
|2 Giorgos Koutoulas||22||AEK|
|3 Iakovas Khatziathanasiou||62′, 82′||28||Panathinaikos|
|4 Pagonis Vakalopoulos||52′||24||Iraklis|
|5 Kostas Mavridis||27||Panathinaikos|
|6 Pavlos Papaiouannou||3′||30||AEK|
|7 Dimitris Saravakos (c)||72′||28||Panathinaikos|
|8 Stavros Stamatis||sub 69′||23||AEK|
|9 Vasilis Dimitriadis||23||Aris|
|10 Nikos Tsiantakis||25||Olympiakos|
|11 Savvas Kofidis||28||Olympiakos|
|12 Nikos Nioplias||on 69′||24||OFI|
|13 Giorgos Agorogiannis||23||Larissa|
|14 Alexis Alexiou||26||Olympiakos|
|15 Theologis Papadopoulos||29||Panionios|
|16 Daniil Papadopoulos||26||Iraklis|
They had lined up in 4-4-2 in their most recent match, the Bulgarians, in the 4-0 friendly defeat in Italy. Here, Mr Vutsov had them in 4-3-3, and in a somewhat unorthodox 4-3-3, where one of the three midfielders kept a lot of width: Balakov was more or less a straight forward left-sided midfielder. There was no one with identical duties on the opposite flank, though Georgiev was occasionally drawn from an attacking central midfield position out into right-sided territory. Yordanov, who had been at the head of the midfield diamond in Italy, was more or less the holding midfielder against Greece. We had earlier seen the three Sredets (CSKA Sofia) forwards Kostadinov, Stoichkov and Penev wander a lot and change positions between themselves. Here, Vutsov had let Penev, now with Valencia in Spain, rest from kick-off, and Iskrenov had come in for him. Stoichkov was the central of the three forwards throughout the match, but Iskrenov and Kostadinov did swap positions between themselves, and as there was no clear right-sided midfielder behind them, the one player of the two who came to Stoichkov’s right, would keep a lot more width than the player who was to the captain’s left. With Balakov attacking the left wing, it meant that Bulgaria were at close to 4-2-4 when going forward.
At the back, it was Ivanov who was seen slightly deeper than his partner this time around, as he took up the role of the injured (?) Iliev, with Bankov just ahead of him in the centre. Dimitrov and Tinchev were traditional full-backs, where neither was equipped with too much attacking intent, possibly with right-back Dimitrov slightly more adventurous than his compatriot down the opposite flank.
Mr Georgiadis had set Greece up in their rather typical version of 4-4-2, where Mavridis was libero and with greater responsibility than his partners at the back. Vakalopoulos was in the centre with him, and the ever-energetic Khatziathanasiou was at right-back in the number 3 jersey, with Koutoulas opposite. Khatziathanasiou was a more attacking full-back than Koutoulas at left-back.
In the role that Tsaloukhidis had so far been performing for Greece during these qualifiers, it was now Papaiouannou who was trying to keep things tight at the rear end of midfield, and with Stamatis just ahead of him in the centre. Tsiantakis was the roaming playmaker with the right hand side of midfield his origin, whilst Kofidis was usually stuck to his left-sided midfield task without straying too far away from his designated space. The front two saw captain Saravakos often move into right-sided territory, something which was a typical feature of his game. Dimitriadis was the latest addition in the Greek line of centre-forwards appearing during the qualifiers ahead of Italy ’90, though he did not bring a lot to the team that hadn’t been there when any one of the others had been present. His lack of physical stature probably made him slightly less of a force compared to, say, Samaras.
When Bulgaria have central defender Vakalopoulos sent off early in the second half, it is central midfielder Papaiouannou who slots into the heart of their defence alongside Mavridis. They appear to go 4-3-2, where original wide midfielders Tsiantakis and Kofidis come inside to work around Stamatis. As for the home side, losing midfielder Georgiev did not seem to change their approach much, still playing with three forwards, though there are signs that one of their strikers try to support midfield and defence when the Greeks make rare forward breaks.
Both sides make substitutions with the score still locked at 0-0: Bulgaria bring on Spain based forward Penev for Kostadinov in what appears as more or less a straight swap: Penev does predominantly operate towards the right of centre in attack, though, with Stoichkov and Iskrenov probably switching more between themselves for the central and centre left positions. As for Greece, they take off Stamatis and replace him with Nioplias in the centre of midfield. That too is a straight swap man for man.
Having gone behind, Greece are almost immediately reduced to nine men with captain Saravakos sent off. As you would expect, they continue in something of a 4-3-1 shape, with Dimitriadis alone up front, and with Tsiantakis and Kofidis trying their best to lend him support from midfield. As further Bulgarian goals go in, the visitors start to disintegrate and lose their shape completely, and at one point they appear to be 3-4-1, with Papaiouannou pushing back into midfield, obviously leaving greater gaps at the back for the home side to exploit. And they will even lose a third player to a red card less than ten minutes from time when full-back Khatziathanasiou has to walk. Only anarchy appears to remain, and ten players against eight it comes as little surprise that the home side add to their tally a couple of minutes from time, with Papaiouannou now more or less a supporting act for Dimitriadis up front.
The final substitution from the home side sees Lechkov replace Yordanov in the centre of the home side’s midfield.
The home side had won the coin toss and chose to play with the wind during the first half, leaving kick-off for Greece to deal with. They start the game through forward duo Saravakos and Dimitriadis.
Right from the first whistle it seems obvious that the pitch will struggle to cope too well with the amount of water coming from above. A good few spectators have brought their brollies to try and keep dry, but there is no such escape for the players, who have to try and deal with the situation as best they can. And early on the impetus does seem to be with the home side. They want nothing short of a win in the penultimate match of a dismal calendar year for the national team, so Mr Vutsov has his team lined up in an attacking formation. It may be 4-3-3, but Balakov to the left of midfield comes forward with a lot of intent, and the three pronged attack has Kostadinov to the right. When the home side attack, they resemble a team playing 4-2-4, with Iskrenov giving captain Stoichkov support through the centre. Another sign of their attacking intent is the fact that Yordanov, predominantly an advanced midfielder, is the more defensive of the central two, with Georgiev ahead of him. It is the latter who produces the first free-kick of the match when he goes in unfairly on left-back Koutoulas deep inside the Greek half after he had felt that Iskrenov should have been awarded a free-kick when challenged by the visitors’ midfield man Stamatis. Shortly after, it is the promising Kostadinov who tries to inject a bit of pace, but he is brought down after a sliding tackle by Papaiouannou, who on three minutes is rewarded with a yellow card. Referee Blattmann wishes to set an example.
Whilst the home side have a wish to keep the game flowing and to do so at pace, the visitors clearly try to slow the match down. They take their time when conducting any type of set-piece, and goalkeeper Plitsis makes sure to kill a few extra seconds every time he is in possession of the ball. Despite their recent 1-1 in Hungary, it does appear that the Greeks are unsure about themselves and about whether they can actually pose a threat to Bulgaria. They sit deep and try to reach their captain, Saravakos, through direct passing when reluctantly breaking. Tsiantakis to the right of the visitors’ midfield seems to be the player they wish to feed the ball to. He had slowly grown in stature since his first qualifying experience during the 3-0 defeat in Romania, and by now the Olympiakos man was trusted with playmaking responsibilities. Tsiantakis is a technically gifted player, but he is fairly one-paced and one-footed, and perhaps it did seem slightly odd that Mr Georgiadis had picked a left-footed player for the right-sided role. Yet he has skill to hold on to the ball and weight a pass in behind the Bulgarian defence. Of the two visiting forwards, Saravakos seems the more industrious and keen to make runs off the ball. His forward partner Dimitriadis wants to receive balls to his feet.
There is quite a bit of action inside the visitors’ penalty area within the opening minutes: Stoichkov hits a 30 yard free-kick over, whilst the same player goes down inside the Greek area after a challenge by Tsiantakis following Georgiev’s neat through ball. The home captain’s tumble had given him away; he had wanted a penalty more than he had wanted to finish. Mr Blattmann would have none of it. Then Ivanov hits a free-kick from 30 yards into the box where Stoichkov has escaped the attention of the Greek defence, but the captain stoops to head just wide as the ball had come to him with too much pace; he had been unable to guide it where he wanted it. The signs were clear, though: Bulgaria were very much in the ascendancy.
The Bulgarian pressure towards Plitsis’ goal will gradually wither, but Stoichkov does appreciate the wet conditions and decides to test the Greek goalkeeper from distance twice: on the first occasion Plitsis parries it away, though only into the path of Iskrenov, who is unable to pursue the threat, whilst Stoichkov’s second strike is a firmer one, and the ‘keeper has to fist it away for a left hand corner. Greece have inside the opening 20 minutes only been threatening Valov’s goal once, and that was when Saravakos had swung a left-sided free-kick into the centre where Mavridis had got up above Balakov to head wide whilst in a decent position. It certainly was a lively match, probably contributed to by the conditions. Greece’ vulnerability on the road seemed understandable when one saw with what ease Bulgaria were creating openings.
The match sees its second booking on 21 minutes when Bankov brings Saravakos down as the forward had attempted to run past him down the Greek left hand side. The defender had used both his foot and his arm to stop the visiting captain from making it towards the byline, and though Bankov went over to Saravakos to apologize, there was no way Mr Blattmann would let him off the hook. The yellow card was well deserved.
Bulgaria are unable to keep their momentum going throughout, and they will slow down pace to let Greece into the game. The condition of the pitch is deteriorating as the half wears on, and in some parts there is surface water that sees the ball stop. Despite left-back Tinchev being issued with the third warning of the match for bringing down the advancing Khatziathanasiou a few yards inside the visitors’ half, the game is at this point not ugly. Some tackles are late due to the state of the pitch, but Mr Blattmann appears to be in control of proceedings. Saravakos has a low effort towards the near post saved low down by Valov. At the other end Greece have finally begun to deny the home side access to their penalty area, and Bulgaria are struggling to create openings like they did inside the first 20 minutes. There is not a lot to be seen from Kostadinov, and Iskrenov is also not in the game nearly as much as Stoichkov, who is proving to be the thorn in Greece’ side. In midfield, Papaiouannou and Stamatis are battling well with Yordanov and Georgiev, and though Kofidis remains a peripheral figure on the left hand side of midfield, the away team are still trying to let Tsiantakis do the orchestrating. He does it reasonably well, and the lively Saravakos is often the recipient of his passes. As Balakov’s strength is hardly his defensive work, it means Tsiantakis can often escape attention. This might be part of the reason why Georgiadis has placed the Olympiakos man on the right.
In the final 15 minutes of the opening half, the game continues to see niggly fouls, and both sets of players become more moody as some tackles come flying in. There is little fluency from either side, just like Greece will have wanted. The visitors have clearly enjoyed more possession after they have managed to slow the game down, also helped by the soggy pitch which is cutting up. On 38 minutes Vakalopoulos goes in hard on Stoichkov inside the D just outside of the visitors’ penalty area, and the home captain lines up to strike the subsequent free-kick. However, it is Yordanov who sees an opening in the Greek wall, and he proceeds to steal the kick and fire it off one of the visiting players and into the net behind Plitsis. The home side believe for only half a second that they have gone ahead, until Mr Blattmann blows his whistle furiously to point out that he had yet not signalled his consent for the kick to be taken. Stoichkov strikes the retaken free-kick straight into the wall.
The final few minutes are fairly uneventful, with the exception of a third Bulgarian booking when Iskrenov fells Khatziathanasiou from behind in about the same spot as the visiting right-back had been brought down by Tinchev for the previous yellow. Bulgaria had started so well but faded. Players like Georgiev and Kostadinov had been unable to stamp any kind of authority on the match, and the home side would need to get back to the same level of performance which they had shown during the opening 20 minutes in order to gain that elusive first win of 1989. Greece would be happy to see the game out like they had managed to halt Bulgaria’s progress in the latter part of the half.
After a somewhat fiery final third to the opening period, it was interesting to see what the second half would have in store. Neither manager had made any changes during the break, and the game would recommence through Bulgarian forwards Stoichkov and Iskrenov.
The first few exchanges of the second half did not differ a lot different from what the final 20 minutes of the opening half had served: sedate pace on a drenched pitch. The rain had seemed to subside, although there were still some umbrellas to be seen here and there. The wind seemed to play in the visitors’ favour. There were still a few niggles, though. Georgiev, the home midfielder who had been rather invisible during the opening 45, had brought Koutoulas down off the ball way inside the Bulgarian half, leaving the Greek left-back in need of some attention. However, the incident had not brought about a free-kick, as the Swiss referee had not detected it as it had happened. And if he had, he would probably have struggled to decide whether it was a proper foul or play-acting on Koutoulas’ part. It did seem as though Greece were trying to put into practice as much as they could in order to keep the tempo down. Bulgaria would have a struggle on their hands in avoiding frustration. Yet Stoichkov’s body language did give the impression of a frustrated man as he was flagged offside when he was not. It had been Kostadinov a few yards further to the right who had crept in behind the Greek backline too early.
51 minutes: Georgiev is awarded a free-kick just inside the Greek half after a tussle with Papaiouannou. As the midfielder goes to collect the ball to get on with the kick, Dimitriadis just gives the ball a little flick with his right boot, something which upsets Georgiev, who decides to try and kick the Greek forward’s foot. He does connect, but the reaction from the visitors’ number 9 is out of proportions as he goes to the ground spectacularly, claiming injury. It had been a stupid thing by Georgiev to do, especially with the referee in close attention. Perhaps should he only have given the home side’s midfielder a booking, but he pulls out the red card, something which sees a few of the home players flock around the man in charge. A few Greece players join in too, and there’s obviously a few words of less pleasantries being exchanged, and visiting centre back Vakalopoulos decides to try and kick Bulgaria’s Ivanov, who quickly retreats to the back of the group of players in white and green. The central defender does not connect with Ivanov, and he tries to escape attention from the man in black by retreating away from the scene. However, Mr Blattmann has spotted Vakalopoulos’ attempt to hit Ivanov, and despite the all-blue number 4’s best face of innocence, the Swiss referee is in no mood to listen to any pleas. Vakalopoulos has to follow Georgiev off the pitch, meaning that the game will continue ten v ten.
Perhaps the scenes of ill discipline should not have come as a surprise. Greece had been a rugged side throughout the qualification so far, and they were probably aware that their only chance to get something from Varna was through physical play and intimidation. As the game continued with nine outfield players in each side, it did seem that the visitors would suffer the most: Georgiev had not properly got into his stride in the centre of the pitch, so Bulgaria would cope alright with losing him. For the visitors to have central defender Vakalopoulos sent off, it meant a reshuffle as holding midfielder Papaiouannou, who had possibly been one of their more instrumental players in denying Bulgaria space and opportunities to keep the match flowing, was moved back alongside libero Mavridis. Rather than pulling either of their two forwards, Dimitriadis and Saravakos, back into midfield, it did appear as they were playing on with three men across the middle, with Tsiantakis and Kofidis less wide than before, lending the central Stamatis their support. However, the centre of the pitch was badly cut by now, and both teams did try and avoid these areas. Bulgaria were probably not getting Balakov to the left and Kostadinov down the right hand side in the game as much as they would have wanted, and the latter is being told he’s coming off to be replaced by Lyubo Penev on 58 minutes. However, the linesman checking on Penev’s boots does not allow the Valencia striker onto the pitch, so the substitution has to be put on hold for Penev to change his footwear.
On 59 minutes Ivanov becomes the fourth Bulgarian player to be booked: Greek left-back Koutoulas, who’s already made a couple of inroads into the hosts’ half of the pitch since the break, trots forward and seems to go by Ivanov only to be brought down through a slight connection. Koutoulas goes to the ground quite heavily, and Blattmann proceeds to show the home libero the yellow card. Ivanov, as you would expect, is claiming his innocence by telling the referee that Koutoulas had taken a dive. Truth be told, it was difficult to say whether there had been enough of an infringement for the referee to bring his card out again. Yes, some of the players were clearly frustrated and in rather foul mood, yet it had not been an overly physical nor ugly game despite the two reds and the total of five yellow cards at this point. From the free-kick after Ivanov’s foul, Saravakos has a cheeky attempt to score from all of 30 yards as he fires a low shot rather than put the ball into the centre for someone to challenge. Valov is more than alert and collects cleanly at the near post.
There is still not a lot happening in front of either goal. Kostadinov, who is still on the pitch, makes sure the referee takes another name as Khatziathanasiou scythes him down out by the left hand touchline some 30 yards away from Plitsis’ goal frame. At this rate, one could be forgiven for thinking that a player or two will have to walk for accumulating two yellows. Six minutes after the switch between Kostadinov and Penev had originally been attempted, the Bulgarian manager can complete his first substitution. Kostadinov, a player of so much promise, had only been able to play a bit-part in the heavy conditions. Yet one wondered whether a player of such physical nature as the big Spain based striker would succeed on such a heavy pitch.
Around the time of Penev’s introduction, Bulgaria are awarded two free-kicks in quick succession just outside of the Greek penalty area. Yordanov, who had struck goal only for it to be wiped out towards the end of the first half, would have felt that he had a cause in wanting to strike, but he was clearly subordinate to Stoichkov, whose both efforts were hit against the Greek wall. In bringing Penev on, Mr Vutsov kept going with his three forwards, and although Iskrenov and Penev were originally left and right of Stoichkov respectively, they would continue their positional interchanges to try and cause stir in the Greek defence. Mavridis was marshalling his troops well, and Bulgaria were still unable to create the necessary openings.
At last there’s a proper nasty challenge when Dimitriadis slides into goalkeeper Valov feet first. He goes in quite heavy after Ivanov’s back pass has been hit with not a lot of pace, though this time the referee does not produce a yellow card. Valov, who has often in the past year been substituted, a rather rare occurence for a ‘keeper, or been in need of treatment on the pitch, is left in some agony, but after a bit of aid from the magic sponge he will continue the match. It had seemed unnecessary of Dimitriadis to make such a challenge for the ball, though he would claim that the surface had played its part too.
Penev seems lively after coming on, and he had a good claim for another yellow against Greek defender Koutoulas after being brought down to the right of the penalty area. The resulting free-kick resulted in nothing. Down the other end, Saravakos is alert to play Dimitriadis in with an intelligent pass into the box from the left, but the striker can not connect and the home defence can ease their breathing after a lapse in concentration as no one had followed Saravakos’ run down the left nor paid close enough attention to Dimitriadis in the centre. In a topsy-turvy couple of minutes, it is Penev who yet again causes some havoc in the Greek defence as he tries to advance past Papaiouannou to the right of the visiting penalty area. The defender gets a good tackle in and the ball breaks for Mavridis, who tries to play it back to his ‘keeper. However, he had not spotted Stoichkov coming in behind his back to cut off the route, and the home side are almost gifted a goal before Mavridis can make a desperate clearance to get the ball away for a right wing corner. Just prior to all of this, Stamatis, who had put in a lot of running in the centre of the pitch, had been replaced by Nioplias.
71 minutes: It is unclear exactly how it happens, but Bulgarian defender Ivanov gets his first international goal following that right wing corner. The TV pictures show a slow-motion replay of Mavridis’ clearance, and all of a sudden there’s a big shout from the home crowd, and Ivanov appears triumphantly on the far post with the goal in the back of the net. The home side have the lead, despite not having properly threatened Plitsis’ goal so far in the half. They will not have cared how it happened; they will have been pleased just to go a goal in front. Would the introduction of Nioplias to the Greek midfield mean a change in their set-up? Could they counter the home side’s opening goal? There were a few questions beginning to loom.
You would expect your captain to try and lead by example, but almost immediately after falling behind, legendary Panathinaikos forward Saravakos sees red for a rash challenge on Balakov by the touchline. It is a bad tackle, and considering Mr Blattmann’s eagerness to wave his cards, it was definitely one which Saravakos could have done without. It did contain a lot of frustration, and going a goal down will only have increased the Greek number 7’s feeling of discouragement. Greece had to continue nine against ten for the remaining odd 20 minutes, leaving Dimitriadis up front on his own. A quick comeback inevitably seemed less likely. Dimitriadis collects the captain’s armband from the sidelines, and he does appear to put it on, though it is hard to say for sure. One would have thought Mavridis to naturally succeed Saravakos as captain.
Two minutes after the sending off of Saravakos there’s another goal to celebrate for the home side: Bankov strikes it well from 25 yards out, and on the slippery surface Plitsis can not get a firm enough hand on it to keep it out. It is 2-0, and the visitors appear to have lost both their captain, their shape and their plot. What next? Bankov, like fellow defender Ivanov, had scored his first goal at international level, and the ball had come to him after Mavridis had only half-heartedly attempted to clear a cross from the left.
When Iskrenov makes it 3-0 on 77 minutes, the game is rapidly becoming a farce for the visitors. To concede three times within the space of six minutes is nothing short of abysmal. Their midfield is almost non-existing, as the introduction of Nioplias for the hard-working Stamatis had not paid any dividends. At least not of a positive nature. There’s a great defensive collapse in the visiting team caused by Ivanov’s opening goal which also paved the way for the following two. Tsiantakis is left to defend against Balakov just inside the right hand side of his own penalty area, but he goes to the ground as the Bulgarian left-sided midfielder advances past him, and there is no marking whatsoever in the centre, where Iskrenov is completely free to stop Balakov’s pass and calmly strike it into an empty net with Plitsis lost somewhere between Balakov and the near post. Greece do not even bother about making claims for a free-kick for when the Bulgarian number 9 trod on Tsiantakis’ heel. All they want by now is for the match to end. If they do not get their act together, they could face a landslide in the dying minutes; there’s still plenty of time left for Bulgaria to further enhance their lead.
In the dying stages, there is no flow to the game; there’s little cohesion even from the home team, and the 3-0 lead is possibly flattering them as their superiority since the opening 15-20 minutes had not been great. A lot could be explained through the poor conditions and the awful state of the pitch. For every passage of play, there’s a sliding tackle, and usually a player goes down, so it is up to Mr Blattmann to decide whether the tackle has been legally executed or not. It is an unenviable task. Yet one does feel that the referee could have handled the game differently and probably better. He had been eager to exert his authority during the opening half, and his desire to produce yellow cards for tackles which probably did not warrant much more than a stern talking to will have confused the players. Not that they were without responsibility for the match turning into a farce. Saravakos’ tackle had been the prime example of someone losing the plot. And with eight minutes left on the clock, yet another Greek player has to walk: aggressive full-back Khatziathanasiou, already on a yellow, has most likely said something that the referee did not appreciate. He does not quite seem to understand that he’s been sent off, and so is told repeatedly by the ref to leave the pitch, which he does very reluctantly. If this wasn’t bad enough already from the visitors’ point of view, finishing the match with eight players would echo in disbelief around the continent when reports from the match came out. And with something like ten minutes left to play, it could still get worse.
Greece had stopped playing football with five minutes left. They put Tsiantakis back into defence for Khatziathanasiou, and there were three players just in front of their defence in Dimitriadis, Kofidis and substitute Nioplias. Seven outfield players were never going to put the home defence under any kind of threat. Bulgaria had a go from the free-kick that followed after the last sending off, but Yordanov’s effort went just to the left of Plitsis’ upright. Shortly after it was time for Mr Vutsov to take his central midfielder off for Sliven’s Lechkov, who would be making his international debut. He will only have time for a couple of touches, but he is described by the Bulgarian commentator as a “technically gifted player”.
4-0: Penev plays Stoichkov through for an emphatic low right-footed finish to the right of Plitsis with only a couple of minutes to go. The Bulgarian captain was probably due a goal for his efforts. Only a minute earlier he had again fired from distance, with the Greek stopper having to dive down low to his left to keep the shot out. Penev’s pass for Stoichkov had been intelligent, and it exposed the unaware Papaiouannou, who was left to deal with the defensive line after Mavridis had strolled forward and out of position moments earlier. The goal capped a solid win for Bulgaria, even if it was by a deceptively big margin. The visitors ought to hang their heads in shame.
45 seconds into injury time, the referee blows his whistle one final time, and the visitors are put out of their misery.
Bulgaria start the game at pace in difficult conditions, and are able to create a few decent openings and long distance efforts, but the visitors manage to shut them out. On a heavy pitch, there’s a few mis-timed tackles, yet they do not seem to be of malicious intent, but the Swiss official will issue no less than four yellow cards during the opening 45 minutes. The Greek are succeeding in slowing down the pace of the game, and after the initial bursts of energy from the home side they seem to be able to hold their own without too much of a struggle. Early in the second half both teams have a player sent off, and there’s not a lot of goalmouth action until Ivanov scores from a set-piece to open the floodgates. Greece have two further players sent off and concede a further three times before the end of the game. They can not take any pride whatsoever from their performance. Bulgaria win deservedly, even if the margin of victory flatters them.
1 Valov 6.6
never put to the test, but could have shown more authority in commanding his area from set-pieces. Is brave when taking Dimitriadis’ big hit midway through the second half
2 Dimitrov 6.8
a non-distinguishable performance, though he’s a reliable customer defensively
3 Ivanov 7.1
rarely troubled at the back, does things simple and efficient. Opens the scoring after a right wing corner
4 Tinchev 6.9
another reliable performer whose strength lies in his defensive work, but is in need of support when faced with both Saravakos and Tsiantakis
5 Bankov 7.2
deceptively quick, nets a screamer from distance, and proves solid in the air. Fine performance
6 Yordanov 7.3
the driving midfield force, keeping Bulgaria tick in the centre of the pitch, and masters the poor conditions in the centre of the pitch better than anyone else. Unfairly has a free-kick goal wiped out a few minutes from half time. Substituted late on
(14 Lechkov –
comes on for his international debut, but only has time for a couple of touches, neither of which is remarkable)
7 Kostadinov 6.5
not his game, his game’s not suited to this kind of pitch. Unable to be as much of a threat as his forward mates, and deservedly taken off
(15 Penev 7.0
improves Bulgaria after coming on with his more direct style compared to his predecessor. Combines well with Stoichkov, and feeds his former Sredets team mate for 4-0)
8 Stoichkov 7.4
his trusted left foot is in action a few times during the first half, as he tried to take advantage of the slippery conditions when testing Plitsis from distance. Goes through quite a bit of work, appears to have a good understanding with Iskrenov. Gets his well deserved goal in the dying minutes
9 Balakov 6.9
assists Iskrenov for 3-0, but despite being available down the left hand side, he is unable to make much of an impact, and defensive work is not his strongest side
10 Georgiev 6.2
often pulls out towards the right hand side from his attacking midfield role, but is not involved a lot, and is no great loss after his sending off early in the second half for kicking Dimitriadis
11 Iskrenov 7.2
easy goal for 3-0, but works tirelessly for the sake of the team, and shows fine combinations with both Yordanov, Stoichkov and Penev. Very mobile
1 Plitsis 6.4
difficult to say much about the opening goal due to lack of footage, but should have done better to keep out Bankov’s effort for 2-0, and is in no-man’s land when Iskrenov scores the home side’s third. Wisely elects to push long distance efforts away in the difficult conditions
2 Koutoulas 6.6
faced with different opponents, and could have done with more support from midfield. More built like a centre-half than a full-back, and offers limited forward options
3 Khatziathanasiou 6.7
willing to join in attack, but is as seen before less energetic in his away performances compared to when Greece are at home. Is sent off for a second bookable offence through dissent less than ten minutes from time
4 Vakalopoulos 6.6
does alright in his central defensive role, quite similair to Kalitzakis both in ways of appearance and in performance. Relatively strong in the air. Act of stupidity as he tries to give Ivanov a kick just after Georgiev’s red card to get sent off himself
5 Mavridis 6.7
a calm customer who conceals his lack of pace well through lying deep. Should’ve directed a close range first half header on target. Less efficient as a left-sided centre half after Vakalopoulos’ sending off
6 Papaiouannou 6.6
goes through a lot of work in his defensive midfield role during the first half, and helps adjust the visitors after Bulgaria’s initial superiority. Has to perform at centre half after the first Greek sending off, and is found out on a couple of occasions
7 Saravakos 6.9
until he receives his marching orders for cynically hacking Balakov down, he has been an outlet for Greek attacks. He’s had a couple of efforts from distance saved on the near post by Valov, and was lively and mobile, not letting the poor surface affect him much. Until his frustration was vented
8 Stamatis 6.3
often running inbetween, unable to make his mark on the game, but the central midfield area did not provide its players with advantageous conditions
(12 Nioplias –
unfortunate with the timing of his arrival as Greece concede four with him on the pitch, but he’s hardly to blame. More visible than his predecessor, and tries to support the striker(s) )
9 Dimitriadis 6.7
no lack of effort, and seems to have a few naughty tricks up his sleeve. Struggles to win in the air against the Bulgarian defenders. Does not pose much of a goal threat, but tries to create space for Saravakos in the opening 70 odd minutes
10 Tsiantakis 6.7
what does not go through Saravakos goes through Tsiantakis to the right of the Greek midfield. He wants to direct play, but too often runs with the ball rather than look for openings
11 Kofidis 5.6
not a bad headless chicken imitation