Football / World Cup USA '94: Holders beaten by bold Bulgaria: Stoichkov and Lechkov strike with two goals in three minutes to bring Germany's American journey to an abrupt end

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BULGARIA yesterday gave the 1994 World Cup, this footballing treasure trove of entertainment and attacking play, a sensation of seismic proportions. Germany, the holders of the golden prize, the nation hardest to beat at this rarefied level of competition, saw their crown ripped away from them in a genuine giant-killing at Giants Stadium.

It was another wonderful dish to set before an American lunchtime television audience, but the impact of this result was in the dethroning of the superpower who were sampling their first World Cup defeat since Mexico City and the 1986 final.

So highly do the Germans savour these four-yearly assemblies that it was only the second time since 1962 that they had failed to reach the round of the last four.

The East European ambition and commitment, which also helped Romania to journey far here, served Bulgaria splendidly because, having enjoyed a handsome early period in which they twice nearly scored, they were forced behind when another close penalty decision - much finer than the decision which probably cost Belgium a goal in their second-round game - had the Germans in celebratory mood.

Not by a long chalk were Bulgaria done for, as the team Dimitar Penev has arraigned to rewrite the sporting history of a country which, before USA '94 had failed to win a single fixture at the finals, continued to believe they could still meet this challenge.

Only 14 minutes remained when the Barcelona striker, Hristo Stoichkov, breathed new belief in the men in red with a floated free-kick that Bodo Illgner made no attempt to retrieve.

Three minutes later Bulgaria made their first appearance in the quarter-finals a tumultuous one as Zlatko Yankov crossed from the right and Yordan Lechkov, who had given away the foul that had seemed to point Germany towards a meeting with Italy here on Wednesday, took off in front of Jurgen Kohler to direct a strong header into the top corner of the goal.

It was the German captain, Lothar Matthaus, who had scored from the spot. It was his mistake after only seven minutes that first alerted Bulgaria to the potential profit available if they were to run with menace at the champions' defence. Then Nasko Sirakov had been presented with an opening, but he was crowded out before he could work the ball on to his favoured left foot.

Early on, Bulgaria were the team with the understanding and the fluency, and they put together a series of rapid movements which struck deep into the lines of resistance in front of Illgner, and suggested an upset could be about to materialise.

The pace and perception of forward players virtually unknown to English viewers before this tournament began was a joyous sight. Twice in the 12th minute they came close to hoisting the first goal. Lechkov, who was 27 yesterday and who plays for Hamburg in the Bundesliga, played in a short free-kick to Sirakov. Illgner got gloves to the shot but he was not far away from palming it into the path of the onrushing Emil Kostadinov.

No sooner had the Bulgarian support stopped cursing their misfortune in that narrow squeak than they were to come even closer. The ubiquitous Lechkov was again at the heart of the move, releasing Stoichkov who cut the ball back for Krasimir Balakov to fire against the post.

It was thrilling stuff and the Germans were not prepared for so audacious a challenge. Next Tzanko Zvetanov came charging through from the back and kept on coming, despite the shirt-pulling indiscretions of Thomas Berthold, to demand a save.

In between times, Thomas Helmer and Martin Wagner had both been booked for fouls as the team favoured to confront Brazil in Sunday's final struggled to stay on terms.

It would be a while before Bulgaria could dominate again. As the interval approached, Germany were encouraged as the combination of Klinsmann and Rudi Voller began to find a presence. Andreas Moller advanced but in the way stood Trifon Ivanov and he took the full weight of the shot in the most tender area.

Three minutes into the second half and Germany were ahead. Wagner launched a high one from the left-back position which was aimed for Guido Buchwald but carried over him. Klinsmann had pulled away at the far post and as he went to meet the bouncing ball he met instead a sturdy challenge from Lechkov.

Typically, the maestro marksman made it look like he had met a 10-ton truck. The decision could have gone either way, and Jose Torres Cadena gave it to Germany. One-up is not a position from which they usually yield - not in a World Cup quarter- final yet, amazingly, they did. It had looked all up for the Bulgarians when Moller hit the post and Voller stuck home the rebound. Offside, ruled the Colombian official, and away they went to create their own remarkable chapter in World Cup annals. Who knows how the postscript will read later this week?

BULGARIA (1-4-3-2): Mihailov (Mulhouse); Hubchev (Levski Sofia); Kiryakov (Lerida), Ivanov (Neuchatel Xamax), Zvetanov, Yankov (both Levski Sofia); Lechkov (Hamburg), Balakov (Sporting Lisbon), Sirakov (Levski Sofia); Kostadinov (Porto), Stoichkov (Barcelona). Substitutes: Yordanov (Sporting Lisbon) for Stoichkov, 85; Genchev (Ipswich Town) for Kostadinov, 90.

GERMANY (1-4-3-2): Illgner (Cologne); Matthaus (Bayern Munich); Berthold (VfB Stuttgart), Kohler (Juventus), Helmer (Bayern Munich), Wagner (Kaiserslautern); Hassler (Roma), Buchwald (VfB Stuttgart), Moller (Juventus); Voller (Marseille), Klinsmann (Monaco). Substitutes: Strunz (VfB Stuttgart) for Wagner, 59; Brehme (Kaiserslautern) for Hassler, 83.

Referee: J Torres Cadena (Colombia).

World Cup '94, pages 38, 39

(Photograph omitted)