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Dublin: 12°C Monday 23 November 2020

England smash six past Bulgaria but racist chants sees play stopped twice in Sofia

Racist chants overshadowed proceedings on the pitch in Sofia on Monday night.

England secured a comprehensive win in Sofia.
England secured a comprehensive win in Sofia.
Image: Nick Potts

ENGLAND’S EURO 2020 qualifier in Bulgaria was twice halted by racist chanting as they bounced back from a first qualifying defeat in 10 years with an emphatic 6-0 win in Sofia.

The visitors led 2-0 through early goals from Marcus Rashford and Ross Barkley when play was first stopped and an announcement made to supporters that the game could be suspended if offensive chanting continued.

Once restarted, England quickly made it 3-0 through Barkley before a second stoppage as Croatian referee Ivan Bebek held discussions with players and coaching staff from both sides.

Raheem Sterling then netted twice either side of half-time before Harry Kane rounded off the scoring to take England to the brink of qualification.

A comprehensive victory was the perfect riposte for Gareth Southgate’s men to their shock 2-1 defeat at the Czech Republic on Friday and opens up a three-point lead at the top of Group A.

However, the focus of attention was again on the stands as despite reassurances from Bulgarian manager Krasimir Balakov on the eve of the game, it was another England match blighted by racism from opposition fans.

After several English players suffered racist abuse in a qualifier away to Montenegro in March, Gareth Southgate had prepared his side to follow UEFA’s three-step protocol for reporting racist incidents that can lead to matches being abandoned.

A section of 5,000 seats at the Vasil Levski National Stadium was already closed for the game after racist incidents during games against Kosovo and the Czech Republic in June.

On the field, Southgate’s decision to make five changes from the side beaten in Prague on Friday was fully vindicated.

Rashford was one of those recalled in the place of Jadon Sancho and put his Manchester United woes behind him by smashing the opener into the roof of the net after just seven minutes.

Barkley then tapped home a second at the back post after a fine one-two between Kane and Sterling freed the Manchester City winger to drive a cross to the Chelsea midfielder.

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The first stage of UEFA’s protocol followed as the game was temporarily stopped and a warning played over the loudspeaker in both Bulgarian and English that the match could be suspended after monkey chants were aimed at England players.

That warning was not heeded as after Barkley headed home Kane’s cross, there was a second, longer stoppage in play.

When play did get back underway there were six minutes of stoppage time added and the visitors used it to increase their advantage.

A fine team move saw Kieran Trippier feed Kane, who crossed for Sterling to this time apply an easy finish.

Southgate’s men could have scored plenty more in the second-half against the dispirited hosts on a terrible night all round for Bulgarian football.

Sterling’s second arrived midway through the second-half with Kane again the creator before the England captain finally got on the scoresheet himself five minutes from time.

England have now scored 26 goals in six qualifiers, but Kosovo’s victory over Montenegro in the other game in Group A delayed their automatic qualification for next summer’s Euros.

The 2018 World Cup semi-finalists just need one more win from their final two qualifiers against Montenegro and Kosovo.

Ryan Bailey steps into the presenter’s chair where he’s joined by Murray Kinsella and Eoin Toolan on the line for Japan to tee up one of the biggest, if not the biggest week in Irish rugby: a World Cup quarter-final against back-to-back champions New Zealand.

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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