EURO'96. First Round. Group B. 09/06/1996.
SPA: Perez Alfonso (73).
BUL: Hristo Stoichkov (65 pen).
SPA: Zubizarreta 6; Belsue 6, Abelardo 6, Alkorta 6, Hierro 6.5, Sergi 6.5; Amor 6 (Alfonso, 73), Caminero 5.5 (Donato, 82), Luis Enrique 5.5, Guerrero 4.5 (Amavisca, 52 - 5); Pizzi (RED, 75).
BUL: Mihailov 7; Kischischev 6.5, Houbtchev (RED, 73), IVANOV 7, Kiriakov 4 (Cvetanov, 75); Iankov 5.5, Balakov 5.5, Letchkov 6.5; Kostadinov 5 (Iordanov, 75), Stoichkov 7, Penev 4.5 (Borimirov, 77).
REFEREE: Pierro Ceccarini (Italy).
AUDIENCE: 26.000, Elland Road, Leeds.
YELLOW CARDS: Caminero, Sergi, Amor, Abelardo (Spain); Stoichkov, Kischischev, Houbtchev, Ivanov (Bulgaria).
RED CARDS: Antonio Pizzi (Spain); Peter Houbtchev (Bulgaria).
"Ten minutes of pouring life..." This way, you can describe the 10 minutes of play yesterday, arguably the only 10 minutes we had something to watch, as I personally expected more from both teams and was a bit disappointed by both. In those minutes we had 2 goals, 1 penalty, 2 red cards, 3 substitutions and "The Substitution Of The Tournament", by now. At the end, both teams were both glad and disappointed, ending their first game with a 1:1.
Stoichkov and Ivanov were the best in Bulgaria; Letchkov gave us a brilliant 1st half, and as for the veteran Borislav Mihailov, he proved us one more time that even the negotiations of his with Maccabee Yaffa a year ago had been a tragic mistake as he deserved and deserves some better team to play in or even to look at. In Spain, Fernando Hierro and Sergi were the best, and Andoni Zubizarreta, a veteran in the fifth major tournament of his, proved he still was very reliable.
The 1st half was dull, bringing us very few opportunities. Guerrero missed the frame at one-to-one with Mihailov (17), and then the keeper parried the ball of Hierro from 22 meters (20). Bulgaria performed a wonderful counterattack, and Stoichkov finished it with a volley, too high. The last chance was of Trifon Ivanov just before the break, but his surprising free kick whistled near Zubizarreta's right post.
The only referee's mistake proved to be a crucial one. 48: the pass of Ivanov found Christo Stoichkov in the box, and the forward flew in the air to shoot a spectacular scissors kick into the net; however, the referee stated it had been an offside, and disallowed the perfectly scored goal. The usual curses of Stoichkov were no less impressive than the goal he scored, but it did not help much...
Zubizarreta managed to deny Letchkov (58), but then even he was helpless. 65: Stoichkov sent Emil Kostadinov into the box, and Sergi knocked the forward down. The defender was booked, and Stoichkov took the penalty kick. Zubizarreta dived well, but lacked several centimeters to reach the ball which went to the inner side of his left post and ... and ... and then finally in. 1:0 to Bulgaria.
Hierro bombed twice (67, 69) to find a wonderful keeper prepared, once with a great dive to his left after a free kick, and once in a terrific high jump to deflect the ball over the bar. But then he couldn't help, too. Peter Houbtchev fouled Pizzi 18 meters from the net in a crucial situation and was sent off. The Bulgarians couldn't accept it properly, and so the free kick was delayed for a minute, used by the coaches to make 3 substitutions. Guerrero shot a ball parried by the wall, Sergi shot the mighty rebound from 20 meters, the ball hit Alfonso (20 seconds on the pitch!) and misled even the great Mihailov. 1:1.
Spain could've achieved the victory had it stayed fully manned; however, Pizzi made a totally redundant foul on Ivanov near the midcircle and saw the red card. Hierro managed still to shoot brightly from 25 meters (83), but Borislav Mihailov flew superbly to parry the danger. On the other hand, the header of Stoichkov (81) and the free kick of Ivanov (89) both missed the frame. 1:1 at the end, an acceptable start for both teams after all.
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