Israel deliver big surprise to Bulgaria

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The Independent Online
Israel produced a major upset yesterday when they beat Bulgaria 2-1 in their opening World Cup qualifying game in European Group Five in Tel Aviv.

The Bulgarians, who reached the semi-finals in the 1994 World Cup, went ahead in the second minute after Emil Kostadinov was brought down by the Israeli goalkeeper, Rafi Cohen, and Krasimir Balakov scored from the penalty spot.

The Israelis bounced back, taking control of the midfield for long sections of the opening period and repeatedly threatening the Bulgarian goal. They created several scoring chances, while the Bulgarians replied with swift counter-attacks, although they lacked the finishing touches of Hristo Stoichkov, who opted to play for his club Barcelona in the Spanish league.

Israel equalised in the 34th minute when their captain Tal Banin chipped over the defence for Ronen Harazi to volley past Reading's Borislav Mikhailov as the Bulgarians appealed for offside. In the 62nd minute, Felix Halfon was fouled in a goalmouth melee, and Banin scored from the penalty spot. Five minutes later Tsanko Tsvetanov cleared a shot by Ronny Rosenthal from the Bulgarian line.

"I was sure we would win," Bulgaria's coach, Hristo Bonev, said. "It was a great victory for Israel."

There was no such drama in Kalamata, where Greece made sure Bosnia did not have a victory with which to celebrate their first appearance in an international competition since gaining independence in 1992. The Greeks won 3-0 to lead the group, which also includes Denmark and Croatia, with six points from two games, having beaten Slovenia 2-0 in April. Denmark opened their campaign by similarly beating Slovenia 2-0 in Ljubljana, with Tottenham's new signing, Allan Nielsen, scoring one of the goals.

Switzerland, who qualified for the 1994 World Cup finals and Euro 96, suffered the biggest upset of Saturday's matches, losing 1-0 to Azerbaijan in a lively Group Three game in Baku. The only goal was scored in the first half by Vidadi Rzayev.

Azerbaijan went on the offensive from the kick-off, with Rzayev, Yunis Guseinov and Nazim Suleimanov, who plays for the Russian champions, Alania Vladikavkaz, spearheading the assault. The Swiss survived that barrage, but they were caught on the counter in the 28th minute. Guseinov collected a long ball out of defence, beat two men and set up Rzayev for the only goal.

Belgium opened their challenge with a 2-1 victory in Brussels over 10- man Turkey in a Group Seven match marred by crowd trouble shortly after the break. Turkish fans, upset at their team's 2-0 first-half deficit, ripped apart dozens of plastic seats and threw them over the fence on to the pitch. Riot police took 10 minutes to restore order.

The police were given an unexpected hand by Sergen Yalcin, a second-half substitute who rekindled Turkish hopes in the 61st minute with a splendid half-volleyed goal. But the benefit was short-lived. Sergen, who had come on just four minutes before scoring, turned from hero to villain barely two minutes after his superb strike when he was sent off for spitting at an opponent and then arguing with the referee, David Elleray.

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