By Clive Leviev-Sawyer of the Sofia Globe
Bulgaria’s national football team lost twice in the span of four days to see its chances of qualification to the 2016 European championship final tournament drastically reduced.
After losing to Croatia 0-1 in Sofia on October 10, the team was expected to put up more of a fight against Norway, seen as the direct rival for the third place that offers a chance to qualify for Euro 2016 via play-offs, only for Bulgaria to succumb to a 2-1 defeat in Oslo on October 13.
Neither loss was particularly surprising, but the manner of defeat was the one that prompted disappointment and some angry reactions among Bulgarian media and fans. Never the soundest of teams defensively, Bulgaria’s frailties at the back were exposed against Croatia and Norway, with all three goals coming after costly defensive errors.
Worse yet, in both matches Bulgaria set out to play rather defensively, inviting pressure from the opposing team but unable to make them pay on the counter-attack. Bulgaria’s only goal in the two matches came from a set piece, with defender Nikolai Bodurov converting from a corner (he scored against Croatia as well, the own goal that decided the outcome).
After the match in Oslo, Bulgaria’s head coach Lyuboslav Penev said he was disappointed with the result, but said that his team’s performance improved compared to the loss to Croatia.
“The first half ended even. Norway had more initiative, but their opportunities were in no way more dangerous,” he said.
“I will not blame anyone personally, I’m the one who bears the responsibility the most. I never analyse [the match] with the media, but we will address the issues. I am certain that our hopes are not dead.”
Three matches into the campaign, Bulgaria is currently fourth in its Group H on three points, having won its opening fixture against Azerbaijan in Baku in September. Italy and Croatia have a perfect record with three wins each, while Norway has six points, with its only defeat coming at home against Italy.
Bulgaria needs a win in its next match against Malta, in Sofia on November 16, to stay in the hunt, but also needs Norway to drop points, starting with their trip to Azerbaijan next month. The return fixture between Bulgaria and Norway, which could prove decisive in the race for the third spot, is scheduled for September 3 2015.