Euro 2020 qualifying group A
Bulgaria 0 England 6
England thrashed Bulgaria 6-0 to all but secure their qualification for next summer’s Uefa European Championships, but it was a performance overshadowed by events off the field.
The Three Lions’s fears that they would be subjected to racist abuse were realised as a section of the Sofia crowd directed monkey chants and Nazi salutes towards England’s black players.
Referee Ivan Bebek twice halted play in the first-half, discussing the situation first with the England players and then with Uefa and stadium officials.
BBC Sport reports that “a stadium announcement then condemned the abuse before stating the match would be abandoned if it continued”.
It didn’t, however, prompting a second stoppage on 43 minutes, during which a section of supporters dressed in black hooded tops were seen exiting the stands.
English Football Association chairman Greg Clarke said after the match: “I heard examples of appalling racist chanting. I was looking at a group of people, all in black – about 50 of them – who were making what looked like political fascist gestures.
“I couldn’t be sure, it was 100 metres away but it looked appalling.”
Raheem Sterling and debutant Tyrone Mings received abuse, as did Marcus Rashford, who tweeted: “Not an easy situation to play in and not one which should be happening in 2019. Proud we rose above it to take three points but this needs stamping out.”
Rashford was responsible for starting the rout, smashing the ball into the corner of the Bulgarian net from a tight angle on eight minutes, and Ross Barkley then scored twice within 12 minutes to kill the game off as a contest.
Sterling added a fourth in the fourth minute of the six minutes of added-on time at the end of the turbulent first half.
Six of the best
Manchester City striker Sterling made it 5-0 on 69 minutes and captain Harry Kane scored the sixth of the night five minutes from time.
Kosovo’s 2-0 victory over Montenegro means England – who now lead group A by three points – must wait to confirm qualification next month. The Three Lions host Montenegro at Wembley on 14 November and travel to Kosovo on 17 November.
But it was a night which unfortunately will be remembered for all the wrong reasons, and the onus is on Uefa to show Bulgaria no mercy in sanctioning the shameful behaviour of a section of their supporters.
Someone should also have a strong word with Bulgaria coach Krasimir Balakov, who claimed after the match that he “did not hear the chanting” and called for action against England fans who “were whistling and shouting during the Bulgarian national anthem”.
How players and pundits reacted to the events in Sofia
England manager Gareth Southgate
“I think we’ve made two statements really by winning the game but also we have raised the awareness of everybody to the situation.”
England debutant Tyrone Mings
“Very proud moment for me and my family to make my @England debut. The unfortunate incidents in the game were handled as well as possible & proud of how we handled it.”
Henry Winter, The Times
“This game should have been ended the moment the monkey chants started. England should have walked. They could have made an even bigger statement.”
Barney Ronay, The Guardian
“The statement from Bulgaria’s manager, Krasimir Balakov, that he had not noticed anything, that he just wanted to talk about football, was an anatomy of cowardly dissembling. Balakov had a responsibility to his sport and to basic human decency. He failed on both counts. “
“English players also came close to walking off but fought on to teach the racists a lesson.”
Gary Lineker, former England striker
“Well played @England. A fine and dignified win.”
Ian Wright, former England striker
“It’s showing Uefa up for what they are. They’re doing nowhere near enough, and I’m so proud that we’re doing what we’re doing at the moment.”
Sam Wallace, The Daily Telegraph
“An England team walking off the pitch in protest at racist abuse, with the support of a Uefa referee would have been the image that reverberated around the world. It would have been unforgettable. But then football rarely plays out the way the movie studios would write it if they could.”