Football / World Cup USA '94: Bulgaria victorious at last

Bulgaria. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .4

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A BANNER in the crowd at Soldier Field boasted: 'Greece, Still Making History' - a reference to their overdue debut in the World Cup - but the only breakthrough yesterday belonged to Bulgaria.

The Bulgarians arrived in the United States with the wretched record of 10 defeats and six draws to show for five previous visits to the finals. They promptly added to the litany of failure against Nigeria, so the euphoria with which their tiny band of followers greeted the final whistle was understandable.

This was not, it must be said, the triumph of attacking football that the scoreline suggests. The first two goals came from the penalty spot, allowing Hristo Stoichkov to open his account for the tournament, while Greece were a demoralised rabble by the time Yordan Lechkov and Daniel Borimirov doubled the advantage.

Greece ought to have been at home amid the neo-classical architecture of the Chicago Bears' stadium. Like Boston, where they had lost by the same margin to Argentina, the city has a big Greek- American population, and around nine-tenths of 63,160 spectators seemed to be shouting for 'Hellas'. This team, alas, is beyond help.

Their coach, Alketas Panagoulias, had rung the changes but it made scant difference. Having conceded a goal to Gabriel Batistuta inside two minutes at Foxboro, they had survived barely 180 seconds longer when Alexandros Alexoudis needlessly handled a header by Zlatko Yankov. Stoichkov dispatched the spot-kick to Ilias Atmatzidis's right.

The hapless Greek goalkeeper, a rival to Colombia's Oscar Cordoba as the worst in the competition, gave Bulgaria the goal which eased their historical burden by rashly grabbing Nasko Sirakov 10 minutes after the interval. This time Stoichkov sent the ball to his left. Lechkov made it three in the 66th minute after a one- two with Yankov had exposed Greece's static defence. Borimirov, on as a substitute, then gave Bulgaria a fighting chance of reaching the second phase by further improving their goal difference when Atmatzidis obligingly spilled Stoichkov's free-kick his way in injury time.

Dimitar Penev, Bulgaria's chain-smoking coach, said afterwards that victory would give his team 'joy and self-assurance'. It might also advance his own career, he added, but for Greece and their fans it was another day for rueful retreat.

BULGARIA (4-3-3): Mikhailov (Mulhouse); Kremenliev, Hubchev (both Levski Sofia), Ivanov (Neuchatel Xamax), Zvetanov (Levski Sofia); Lechkov (Hamburg), Yankov (Levski Sofia), Balakov (Sporting Lisbon); Kostadinov (Porto), Sirakov (Levski Sofia), Stoichkov (Barcelona). Substitutes: Kiryakov (Lerida) for Zvetanov, 77; Borimirov (Levski Sofia) for Kostadinov, 81.

GREECE (1-3-4-2): Atmatzidis (AEK Athens); Karataidis (Olympiakos); Apostolakis, Kalitzakis (both Panathinaikos), Karayannis (AEK Athens); Hantzidis (Olympiakos), Marangos, Nioplias (both Panathinaikos), Kofidis (Aris Salonika); Machlas (OFI Crete), Alexoudis (Panathinaikos). Substitutes: Mitropoulos (AEK Athens) for Hantzidis, h-t; Dimitriadis (AEK Athens) for Alexoudis, 58.

Referee: Ali Mohamed Bujsaim (United Arab Emirates).

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