England thrash Bulgaria after game halted over racist abuse

Croatian referee Ivan Bebek stopped the game in the 28th minute after Raheem Sterling was a target for abuse. (Reuters)
Updated 15 October 2019

England thrash Bulgaria after game halted over racist abuse

  • Racist chanting was heard from the stands and reported by England players to manager Gareth Southgate

SOFIA: England bounced back from their first tournament qualifying defeat for 10 years with a 6-0 thrashing of toothless Bulgaria on Monday 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 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.
"The officials were onto everything very quickly," said Southgate. "We reported everything very quickly when we heard things.
"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.
"It's a very delicate subject," Balakov told reporters. "I do not think there is a single person in Bulgaria who would say that racism is something 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)."
On the pitch, Ross Barkley and Raheem 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 on Friday.
England, who moved closer to a place at Euro 2020, are top of the group with 15 points from six games, three ahead of the Czechs and four in front of Kosovo who beat Montenegro 2-0.
EARLY VICTIM
England debutant Tyrone Mings was an early victim of racist abuse, turning towards the fans when chants were aimed in his direction. Croatian referee Ivan Bebek stopped the game in the 28th minute after Raheem Sterling was a target for abuse.
A public announcement condemned the racist abuse before stating that the match would be abandoned if it continued.
The game was stopped again in the 43rd minute but resumed after the referee consulted England manager Gareth Southgate.
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 halftime.
Popov did not even go to the dressing room, attempting to explain to fans that their behaviour was unacceptable.
European soccer governing body UEFA had ordered the Bulgarian Football Union to partially close the Vasil Levski national stadium for England's visit after supporters were found guilty of racist behaviour in matches earlier this year.
On the pitch, Barkley struck twice after Rashford score in the seventh minute as Southgate’s side highlighted the gap in quality with the hosts before Sterling netted before halftime.
England’s victory was rounded off by Sterling's second goal midway through the second half and a cool finish from Kane five minutes from the end against bottom side Bulgaria.
"We have no class," coach Krasimir Balakov said of his side. "I understand all the people who have bought tickets and wanted something different, but against this England team, with this dynamic, and with these players that cost millions..."


Southgate to bring Sterling back from England exile

Updated 17 November 2019

Southgate to bring Sterling back from England exile

  • World Cup semifinalists ‘still have room for improvement as they chase first major title since 1966’

PRISTINA:  Gareth Southgate is set to bring Raheem Sterling back from his brief England exile in Sunday’s qualifier against Kosovo as he seeks to end the controversy over the Manchester City star’s row with Joe Gomez.

Sterling was dropped for Thursday’s 7-0 rout of Montenegro after clashing with England team-mate Gomez in the Three Lions’ training base canteen.

It is believed Sterling was unhappy with Gomez following an altercation with the Liverpool defender during City’s Premier League defeat at Anfield last weekend.

Although Sterling was left out of the Montenegro game as punishment for his attack on Gomez, Southgate has confirmed the winger will return for England’s final Group A fixture.

Sterling and Gomez, left with a scratch under his eye after the incident, are said to have patched up their relationship, but the center-back was jeered by England fans at Wembley when he came on as a substitute against Montenegro.

Both Southgate and Sterling expressed their support for Gomez and criticized the booing supporters, with the England manager reportedly comforting the shocked 22-year-old and his family after the match.

Now Southgate could include Gomez against Kosovo in a show of support for the Liverpool player.

With England already guaranteed to qualify for Euro 2020 in first place in their group, Southgate already planned to make changes, although he is keen to ensure England finish with a win as they eye a top-six seeding in next year’s tournament.

“We will make some changes, for sure, but the seeding in the group could be critical and we know it’s a big night for the Kosovans,” Southgate said.

“It’s a shame for them that they’re now out of this part of the qualification, although they’ve still got the playoffs in which I think they’ll be a huge threat in that format. “So, it will be a good test for us because it will still be a lively environment.

“The enthusiasm for the game is high and we want to finish the group with as many points as we can.”

Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson could return following a one-match ban, while Southgate has to decide whether to keep faith with Ben Chilwell ahead of Danny Rose at left-back.

Harry Kane may have scored a hat-trick against Montenegro but it was Leicester’s Chilwell who was named England’s man of the match following a fine display in which he provided three assists in the opening 24 minutes.

“Ben, I liked the hunger in his game, the enthusiasm to get forward,” Southgate said.

“The whole team pressed well but he also pressed well from that full-back position, got into overlaps, his quality of delivery was excellent.”

Although England have cruised through their qualifying group, Southgate believes the 2018 World Cup semifinalists still have room for improvement as they chase a first major title since 1966.

“There were a couple of chances we conceded that just shouldn’t happen, so that’s still part of our game that we’ve got to improve upon,” he said.

“If we are to be a team that are going to challenge seriously, although we’re young, we’ve got to manage games well.

“We’ve got to make sure that, although we’re such a fantastic attacking threat, the rest of the team is right as well. There are things we’ve got to be better at.”