Bulgaria will play their next two games behind closed doors as a result of the racist abuse directed at England players during the recent Euro 2020 qualifier in Sofia.
In the past, similar offences have been met with a one-game stadium ban but, as this is the Bulgarian’s second offence, the length of the sanction handed out by UEFA has been doubled.
The October 14th match was twice halted by officials due to chants and gestures from a group of Bulgarian fans, targeted at England players. A 5,000-seater section of the arena was closed off due to similar offences in an earlier qualifier against the Czech Republic.
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The game was first stopped in the 28th minute as match officials began UEFA’s three-step protocol for handling racism. An announcement was made in the stadium that the game would be abandoned if the chanting did not stop, a message met with boos from the crowd.
Following the game, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov called on Borislav Mihaylov, President of the Bulgaria Football Union, to quit. Mihaylov did so the following day.
Bulgaria coach Krasimir Balakov, meanwhile, denied hearing any racist chanting during the game but has also since resigned from his position.
Despite the game 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.”
"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."
Bulgarian authorities acted swiftly following the game. In total, 16 suspects were identified, 12 of whom were arrested. Four have already received fines and two-year bans, while the investigation is ongoing.
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