Bulgaria coach Krasimir Balakov denied hearing any racist chanting during his team’s 6-0 loss to England in their Euro 2020 qualifier.
Despite the game in Sofia being halted on two separate occasions during the first half as a result of the abuse aimed towards England players, Balakov claimed that he ‘didn’t hear anything’. Instead, the Bulgaria boss chose to highlight English fans booing during his side’s singing of the national anthem.
Balakov said: “I was concentrated on the game. I didn’t hear anything… If this is proven to be true, we have to be ashamed and we have to apologise for it. But it has to be proven to be true.”
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"I saw the referee stopped the game but I also have to say the behaviour was also not only on behalf of the Bulgarian fans but also the English fans, who were whistling and shouting during the Bulgarian national anthem.
"During the second half they used words against our fans which I find unacceptable."
The team’s goalkeeper, Plamen Iliev, also denied hearing any racist chanting, and went as far as to praise the Bulgarian fans. He said: “If I am honest, I believe they [the fans] behaved well today. There wasn’t any abuse [as far as I could hear] and I think they [the England players] overreacted a bit. The public was on a good level – I didn’t hear any bad language used towards their or our players.”
The likelihood of racist chanting was raised repeatedly during the game’s build-up, with England players saying they would be prepared to walk off the pitch if the abuse occurred. In the first-half of the match, English players and coaching staff raised the issue with UEFA officials and had constant dialogue with the referee throughout, but did play the game out to its conclusion.
Balakov chose to highlight the pre-match discussion as contributing to last night’s events. He said: "We've had this problem ever since England were about to come to Bulgaria and all I've heard for three weeks is people talking about anything else but football. I don't think this was the proper manner to prepare and play a football game.
"If this turns out to be true we are truly sorry and we as the Bulgarian Football Union and the Bulgaria national team are working very hard."
Despite the stadium being partially closed due to previous racist behaviour in matches against the Czech Republic and Kosovo, Balakov also claimed: "This has not happened to us before."
The Bulgarian coach was also asked about his captain, Ivelin Popov, speaking to his own supporters at half-time. He replied: “I really have no idea about this. If our captain spoke to the fans, it is because the fans were unhappy with the way the team was performing. Fans are emotional.”
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There was further denial of the night’s events from the local press. In the post-match press conference, one Bulgarian journalist continually interrupted proceedings to say that the matter was “being exaggerated” and that the whole night had been “friendly”.
According to the Athletic, the journalist claimed he couldn’t hear any racist chanting from the press box, despite everyone else there saying otherwise, claimed English journalists couldn’t say it was racist because they didn’t “understand Bulgarian”, and that he didn’t know if it was monkey chanting or not because he “had not been to the jungle”.
Since last night, Bulgarian sports minister Krasen Kralev has called for the head of Bulgarian football to quit following the racist abuse. The message is a direct order from the country’s prime minister, Boyko Borisov.
Kralev said: "The government has done a lot for the development of Bulgarian football in the last four years.
"But after the recent events, having in mind the whole state of football and last night's incidents, the prime minister has ordered me from today to suspend any relations with the BFU, including financial ones, until the resignation of Borislav Mihaylov."
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