Racist abuse overshadowed England’s emphatic win over Bulgaria on Monday as the referee was twice forced to halt play amid shameful scenes in Sofia.
A 6-0 victory for Gareth Southgate’s team came after a first half in which UEFA, European football’s governing body, was forced to exercise the first two steps of its three-stage protocol for dealing with racism.
TV cameras picked up Tyrone Mings, who was making his international debut, asking a match official “did you hear that?” before an announcement over the PA system issued a warning to the crowd. A further suspension of play followed before the Bulgaria captain Ivelin Popov was seen in heated discussion with home supporters during the half-time interval.
The match was being played in front of a partially closed Vasil Levski Stadium as part of a punishment for what UEFA deemed racist behaviour by Bulgaria fans in earlier qualifying matches against Kosovo and Czech Republic.
Two goals from Raheem Sterling, a brace from Ross Barkley and a goal apiece for Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford meant England bounced back after their first qualifying defeat in a decade against Czech Republic last Friday.
Southgate made five changes ahead of kick-off, handing Aston Villa defender Mings his debut in the process.
Mings replaced Michael Keane to partner Harry Maguire at the heart of the defence, while Ben Chilwell came in for the suspended Danny Rose.
Harry Winks, Barkley and Rashford were also recalled in place of Declan Rice, Mason Mount and Jadon Sancho.
Rashford gave England the lead in the seventh minute, after some lovely work down the left, turning his man inside the box and hammering a shot past Plamen Iliev.
There is a break in play as the referee has been notified of alleged racist abuse. A stadium announcement has been made asking the abuse to stop#BULENG #ThreeLions #ITVFootball #EURO2020 pic.twitter.com/PWpjHmiTBj— ITV Football (@itvfootball) October 14, 2019
Bulgaria almost equalised immediately, when Popov let fly from 25 yards out, but Jordan Pickford made a brilliant save low to his left.
Barkley finished off a well-worked move to put the away side 2-0 up after just 20 minutes. Some slick passing got Sterling in behind the defence, before the Manchester City striker found Barkley at the back post for a simple tap in.
The evening took a turn for the worse when the game was briefly stopped as step one of UEFA's anti-racism was put into action in the 28th minute, a stadium announcement condemning racist abuse and stating the referee would stall or abandon the match should it continue.
Four minutes later Barkley scored his second of the night to put Southgate’s side 3-0 up with a well directed headed from Kane’s cross.
Play was stopped again in the 43rd minute and Southgate engaged in deep conversation with the officials on the touchline with players joining the England manager on the side of the pitch.
Sterling added a fourth just before the break after another well worked England move. Some fast flowing football finished off by the City forward after Kane rolled the ball across the six yard box for an easy finish. It was around this time that footage broadcast by ITV appeared to show a number of Bulgaria fans, many wearing black hoods, leaving the stadium.
Greg Clarke, chairman of the Football Association, told ITV after the match that UEFA had ejected 50 fans during half time.
The second half was a far more sedate affair with Sterling and Kane both finding the back of the net with smart left-footed finishes when through on goal. The win leaves England on the brink of qualification for next summer’s European Championships.