Football / World Cup USA '94: Stoichkov keen to conquer Italy

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The Independent Online
BULGARIA are confident they can reach the World Cup final after their victory over Germany yesterday. Their captain and goalkeeper, Borislav Mikhailov, warned: 'I think we have a great chance of beating Italy. They're not as good a team as Germany.'

Hristo Stoichkov, whose free-kick in the 76th minute hauled Bulgaria back into the match, insisted: 'We have nothing to lose. I think we'll have as big a success against Italy in the semi-final.'

The Bulgarian coach, Dimitar Penev, said: 'Ever since the qualifying matches started, we have tried to build the side around those players who have been playing for foreign clubs.

'Now we've reached the semi-finals, everyone will look at us in a different way. We've played well in all our games, but because this took us to the semi-finals it has the greatest value.'

Zhelyu Zhelev, the president of Bulgaria, telephoned the team dressing-room to congratulate the players, as he did after the successful penalty shoot-out against Mexico.

In a live speech on Bulgarian television, the president congratulated the nation on the unprecedented victory, saying it had been made possible by the end of the Communist regime.

'Democracy had to come in order to allow our footballers to play in the most prominent European and world teams and really show their talent,' Zhelev, a former dissident, said in a reference to the many foreign-based players in the national squad.

The hills around Sarajevo echoed with rhythmic gunfire as Bosnian Serb soldiers celebrated news of Bulgaria's victory. The Serbs share linguistic, religious and ethnic ties with Bulgaria and are generally hostile towards Germany. The match was carried live from the United States by television and radio in Bosnia. Serb soldiers on the hills above Sarajevo fired into the air at each of the Bulgarian goals.

In Sofia, Bulgarians flooded the streets in a nationwide outburst of joy at their victory. Old people lent over their balconies, smiling and clapping as youngsters ran below shouting, waving flags and spraying each other with champagne and beer.

Hundreds of thousands of fans jammed the streets, heading in cars, buses, trucks and on foot for the centre of town, where crowds filled the square in front of the National Palace of Culture.

Lothar Matthaus, the German captain, said his whole team was to blame for their defeat. Matthaus, making a record-equalling ing 21st appearance in the World Cup, said: 'We are all guilty, there's not an individual player to be blamed.'

The German coach, Berti Vogts, said the game showed how other teams had improved. 'We in Germany also have to start acknowledging the performances of other nations,' he said. 'They have caught up, and we have to look for new ways now.'

Vogts, who went into the Bulgarians' dressing-room to congratulate them, said: 'We made two mistakes and they punished us for them. We knew all about how dangerous their counter-attacks were and how good their individuals were. Their individuals won them this match.'

Bodo Illgner, the German goalkeeper, announced his retirement from international football after the match. 'I had made the decision to quit before, but I wanted to depart with another World Cup title,' Illgner said.

Vogts said he was disappointed by Illgner's decision. 'It shows some weakness of character,' Vogts said.

Vogts's own future looks bleak. 'Out] Berti, that was it,' the headline in the mass- circulation daily Bild, the country's biggest paper, screamed in today's edition.

Most Germans who called a telephone survey after the match said they thought Vogts would not stay on.