Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Bulgaria opened their glorious display of ‘socialist morality’ against Sweden. It was a strange line-up to say the least: nominally 4-3-3, but in reality 5 midfielders and only one pure striker – the right winger Voynov. Supposedly, Pavel Panov was to be the centre forward and Georgy Denev the left winger. What was to play Asparoukh Nikodimov was impossible to tell… in fact, there was crowding of some positions, when there was nobody at others: Nikodimov was a playmaker, thus duplicating Bonev. Panov and Denev played the same position at their clubs – attacking midfielders, preffering to play at the left side of the field. It was clear that Bulgarian attack was impoverished and there were little options, but also the chosen tactic was more than questionable. Since this was seen as the easiest match for Bulgaria, it was supposed to be attack oriented team – but it was not. Nothing good happened on the pitch and the 0-0 tie was more due to Swedish overestimating Bulgarian strenght. Bulgaria showed dangerous signs, including shaky performance of the primery goalie Roumen Goranov. Substitutes begged some questions as well: Atanas Mikhailov replaced Voinov, the only real attacker, and later Mladen Vasilev, the second right winger replaced Pavel Panov.
After a match showing largely defficiencies coaches usually make changes, hoping for better, but against Uruguay the very same team came on the pitch. There is nothing to say about this match, so boring and meaningless it was, except for the bright moment when Voinov made a good run on the right wing and crossed the ball in front of Mazurkiewicz. Bonev scored with spectacular header, but later the Uruguayans managed to equalize. Once again Mikhailov came in the second half, replacing the useless Nikodimov. If there was anything else, it was more trouble: it was clear that Goranov lost his nerves and menatlly collapsed, something not unusual for young goalkeepers. By now, it was more than déjà vu, but a full repeat of 1970 World Cup – weird squad, misjudgement of opponents, lame game, showing complete lack of ideas and even spirit.
Before the third match against Holland Bulgaria still had theoretical chance of reaching the second stage – they only had to win over the Dutch. Which was purely in the realm of theory… how is to motivate a team for playing above their level, if the match is written off months earlier? May be fielding different players? Lamely and halfheartedly, slightly different footballers started the game: Stefan Staykov came instead of Goranov, a change a match too late, and Ivan Stoyanov instead of Nikodimov, another very questionable change, for Stoyanov was a defensive midfielder, doubling the position occupied already by Bozhil Kolev. It was obvious that the idea was defending, not attacking – and what chances were there for a must win then? Naturally, the mighty Dutch dominated the match, winning easily 4-1. They scored all the goals, for Krol scored in his own net. Once again Mikhailov came in the second half, substituting the redundand Stoyanov and later Krasimir Borisov replaced Panov, with which the tendency of doubling positions was stubornly continued. Borisov, like Denev, Panov, and Mikhailov was an attacking midfielder, operating mostly on the left flank. This match perhaps should be remembered mostly for the absurd rules, or the lack of such, reguarding kits at this tournament: Holland played in their usual orange and Bulgaria – with their second red kit. Whethet live, or on black-and-white TV, or colour TV, the only way to distinguish both teams was by their shorts.
Neeskens scoring one of the two penalties against helpless Staykov.
The stupid clash of colours… watch for the shorts. And may be for who has the ball… Cruiff leaves behind Stoyanov in the first half.
In the second Stoyanov’s replacement Atanas Mikhailov (right) suffered the same faith – Cruiff, surrounded by three Bulgarian players just runs away with the ball.
The Bulgarians were so bad, no wonder nobody cared to get their names right – here it is said that Rep wins over the goalie Ivkov. Well, the goalie was Staykov. As for central defenseman Ivkov…
he mostly watched Rep and his teammates play and score. Hmm, the text on the photo says Rep, but this is Theo de Jong, scoring the 4th Dutch goal in the 88th minute.
And after plenty of Dutch scoring it was time for the Bulgarians to go home. They were not to be missed… and deservingly so. In the aftermath there were some questions… naturally, coach and players were blamed. To my mind, there were mistakes and outright injustice – although the team was not great and choises very limited, there were at least some options. Why Simeonov was not made first goalie? Especially after Goranov’s collapse. True, Simeonov collapsed at 1970 World Cup and was severely blamed for everything. And mostly because of that he did not play even club football between 1970 and the spring of 1974. But he had splendid form in that spring, was eager to clear his name from unjust accusations, and most imporatntly – he was vastly experienced keeper. I think defense would have been more secure of itself with him between the goalposts. Why Kiril Milanov was kept on the bench? Although not a prolific goalscorer, Milanov was an Englsih type centreforward – strong in the air, constantly in the penalty area, keeping defensemen on tiptoes, and very able to keep his own ground in the typical pushing and shoving of 1970s. And finally, an ethical, rather than purely tactical question: only handfull of footballers in 1974 (and even now they are few) appeared in four World Cups. To be recognized, they had to appear in some games, even for a few minutes. It was forth World Cup for Dobromir Zhechev, by now, not a starter. I think it was decent to field him for a few minutes against the Dutch – the match was lost anyway, so why not honoring the player? But no… meaninglessly, from every point of view, Borisov came on the pitch, and Zhechev is not on the list of players participating in four World Cups. To my mind, it was very mean to deprive him from this rare honour.
Years later the truth was spurted out: once again Communist Party functioneries decided who to play… which explains why Milanov was never on the pitch and may be why Zhechev and Simeonov were not fielded too. But, since the Party was always right and blameless, the vitriol was chanelled against the team. The coach was sacked and the players were accused of lack of patriotism, and, in general, everybody was guilty and now was time for new team. Bulgaria ended with most points earned at World Cups so far – 2 - but yet without a single win and very low scoring (just one goal, for the second was Krol’s own goal). Pathetic.