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..."


Record-breaking Lukaku propelling Inter’s European dream

Updated 12 August 2020

Record-breaking Lukaku propelling Inter’s European dream

  • Inter reach their first European semifinal since 2010 when they went on to win the Champions League

MILAN: A record-breaking Romelu Lukaku is leading Inter Milan's chase for their first trophy in 9 years.

Eyebrows were raised last year when Inter shelled out a club record of around €65 million ($73 million) plus €13 million  ($15 million) in bonuses for Lukaku, who had had a disappointing final season at Manchester United.

However, Lukaku swiftly developed a scintillating partnership with Lautaro Martínez and their goals helped Inter sustain a title challenge before eventually finishing second in Serie A, a point behind Juventus.

Inter scored 81 league goals — well above the paltry 57 they managed in the previous campaign.

Lukaku scored again on Monday and set up another to help Inter beat Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 to reach the Europa League semifinals.

“Romelu has never played so well, not even in the past,” Inter coach Antonio Conte said.

The Belgian forward became the first player to find the net in nine consecutive Europa League games, surpassing the eight set by Alan Shearer for Newcastle in 2005.

Lukaku’s 31st goal of the season took him past the 30-mark for the first time in his career.

“I’ve always wanted to win, ever since I was little,” Lukaku said. “I’ve always said that I will give my all for this team.

“We’re a great team; my teammates help me a lot, otherwise I couldn’t do these things and achieve these numbers ... my teammates look for me. We’re doing well together, all of us.”

Inter reached their first European semifinal since 2010 when they went on to win the Champions League as well as Serie A and the Italian Cup to complete a historic treble.

They retained the Italian Cup the following year but have not managed to lift silverware since.

The Nerazzurri play Shakhtar Donetsk or Basel in the semifinals on Monday.

After an intense period of playing matches approximately every three days after soccer restarted following the pandemic-enforced shutdown, Conte has almost a week to prepare his players.

He will want to make sure they understand that profligacy can prove costly at this level.

Inter have often failed to kill off games in which they have  dominated, and that was again the case on Monday when they had opportunities to extend their advantage.

That allowed Leverkusen to stay in the quarterfinal despite having only two shots on target.

“We could have gone through in a more relaxed manner because, despite the fact that we never really had to dig in, the result was close,” Conte said.

“It’s difficult to be annoyed. I can only compliment the lads on their performance. As is the case after every game, we’ll analyze every situation and see where we can improve.”