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Bulgaria refuse to be beaten

Saturday, 9 October 2004

[1] Dimitar Berbatov headed a brilliant late equaliser to claim what at the break had seemed an unlikely draw for Bulgaria that in this 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifying Group 8 match.

Srna double

[2] Two first-half goals from Darijo Srna had given Croatia hope of matching their excellent victories against Hungary and Sweden last month. On 14 minutes, Srna struck for the first time with a direct free-kick from the right touchline that caught out Dimitar Ivankov at his near post.

Ivankov stops

[3] Ivankov soon made amends, though, with two fine saves. Eight minutes after the goal, a Croatian corner was cleared only as far as Niko Krancjar, but the Bulgarian goalkeeper pushed his half volley from 20 metres out on to the post. Krancjar tried his luck from long range seven minutes later, but again Ivankov was equal to the effort.

Lead doubled

[4] However, Ivankov was beaten again after the half-hour mark. Visiting defender Georgi Markov was adjudged to have brought down Marko Babic in the box, and Ivankov's touch was not enough to keep out Srna's fiercely struck penalty.

Transformed outfit

[5] Bulgaria coach Hristo Stoichkov had said in the build-up that this was his side's most important qualifier of the campaign and that a win would see them "almost certain" of qualifying. And perhaps he repeated those words at the break, as his team emerged as a transformed outfit.

Constant threat

[6] Zlatko Kranjcar's side had little answer to the, at times, outstanding passing and movement of their visitors, which had Stoichkov's FC Barcelona schooling written large all over it. Martin Petrov, in particular, was outstanding, proving a constant threat down the Bulgarian left.

Scores levelled

[7] On 78 minutes, Berbatov split the Croatian defence with a fine first-time pass, and Martin Petrov's shot proved too powerful for Tomislav Butina to keep out. Then three minutes from time, Bulgaria broke down the Croatian left with captain Stilian Petrov, who ran at the home defence and drilled a superb low cross into the path of Berbatov. His successful diving header was no more than Bulgaria deserved.

Malta encounter

[8] Stoichkov's team, who have four points from two fixtures, now play host to Malta on Wednesday night knowing a two-goal victory would take them above current leaders Croatia - who return to action in March, when Iceland are their visitors.

Bulgaria's Dimitar Berbatov (left) takes on Niko Kovac