Football

Bulgaria coach Krasimir Balakov: I did not hear any racist abuse

England bounced back from their first tournament qualifying defeat for 10 years with a 6-0 thrashing of toothless Bulgaria in a Euro 2020 Group A clash marred by racist incidents in the first half that stopped the game.

The match at the Vasil Levski Stadium yesterday morning (Singapore time) was temporarily halted by the referee in the first half under a three-step Uefa protocol to tackle racist abuse from the crowd.

Racist chanting was heard from the stands and reported by England players to manager Gareth Southgate, with the referee informed and a public announcement made on two occasions - when chants were aimed in the direction of Tyrone Mings and Raheem Sterling.

"The officials were onto everything very quickly. We reported everything very quickly when we heard things," said Southgate.

"I explained to the players that if anything else did happen in the second half, we would be coming off. We all saw the second half was calmer and that allowed our players to do their talking with the football."

Most of the Bulgaria players and coach Krasimir Balakov said they had not heard any abuse of the England team.

Balakov said: "I do not think there is a single person in Bulgaria who would say that racism is pleasant.

"But, at the same time, it is very strange how this topic is interpreted in football. I have heard absolutely nothing (during the game)."

A group of black-clad Bulgarian fans, some of whom were making right-wing salutes, were moved from an area behind the dugout with home team captain Ivelin Popov trying to appeal to the supporters in a heated discussion at half-time.

Popov did not even go to the dressing room, attempting to explain to fans that their behaviour was unacceptable.

On the pitch, Ross Barkley and Sterling both netted twice after Marcus Rashford got the opener and captain Harry Kane finished off the rout, Bulgaria's heaviest home defeat, as the visitors recovered from a 2-1 loss to the Czech Republic last Friday.

Meanwhile, Bulgarian Football Union (BFU) president Borislav Mihaylov has stepped down after the country's Prime Minister Boyko Borissov urged him to quit in the aftermath of the racist abuse.

Less than a hour after Mihaylov's resignation, more than 20 police officers swept into the BFU headquarters in Sofia, with sources saying that officers had been searching for documents related to some Bulgarian referees. - REUTERS

Football