The first part of the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign is already behind us and it’s a good time to make some evaluations. Luckily, I am writing this blog post in a great mood as my teams Bulgaria and Poland made promising starts and gave me reasons to believe that they both can make it to Brazil :) Of course, I am always an optimist but this time my optimism is backed up with some serious arguments. My teams remain undefeated and our players show great ambition and fighting spirit. I love watching how they bite the grass and I am sure the successes will come if they continue approaching the games the same way!
Bulgaria and Poland started the current qualifying campaign with new, younger and ambitious, but very different, coaches in the face of Lyuboslav Penev and Waldemar Fornalik. Penev, born in 1966, was a star striker in the Bulgarian national team and Spanish La Liga while Fornalik, born in 1963, spent his whole playing career as a defender in Ruch Chorzów and never made it to the Polish national team. Furthermore, Penev is a lively and emotional coach who keeps a tight rein on his players and puts a great emphasis on discipline while Fornalik is a calm and quiet coach who is softer with his boys. Despite these differences, I believe that both coaches can guide their teams to Brazil :)
I am in a better position to discuss the performance of Bulgaria as I have watched all 4 games of the lions so far. We are second in the group with 6 points after draws with Italy (2-2) and Denmark (1-1) in Sofia, draw with the Czech Republic (0-0) in Prague and a win over Armenia (1-0) in Sofia. In order to show you how much we have improved, I will tell you that we won only 5 points with a goal difference of 3-13 in the whole 8-match EURO 2012 qualifying campaign and finished last in our group. Coach Penev deserves great praise for managing to transform a group of chickens (I am using a polite word here) into a band of fearless diehards who give it all on the pitch!
We started the campaign as outsiders against the EURO 2012 finalists Italy and we outplayed the favoured Azzurri. Right winger Stanislav Manolev beat the great Gianluigi Buffon with a fantastic 30-meter shot and opened the score but two defensive errors put us in a 1-2 hole. Thanks to our fighting spirit, however, we managed to level the score and share the points with the famous rivals. It’s not easy to score twice and come back against such defensive specialists as Italy but we did it :) Respect for our players! Four days later, we hosted Armenia and although we did not show our best football we took the three points thanks to the goal from… Manolev :) Manolev, who does not play at his club PSV Eindhoven but shines with the shirt of the national team!
Appetite comes with eating and following the two successful September qualifiers, the expectations and enthusiasm of Bulgarian fans have risen significantly. On 12th October, we took Denmark and started the game in a great “show-time” style – our players were hungry, motivated and were even performing entertaining tricks for the crowd. Our pressure on the visitors brought quick results as forward Dimitar Rangelov found the net with a header on 7 minutes. Everything was perfect until the 26th minute when right back Ivan Bandalovski, who made the assist for our goal, committed a needless, extremely stupid and brutal foul on Daniel Wass and received a well-deserved direct red card. Playing 11 on 10, the Danes took control of the match and leveled the score 5 minutes before the break. Nicklas Bendtner punished a collective defensive error of our central defender Ivan Ivanov, who ran back to cover Bendtner’s 5-meter offside, and goalkeeper Nikolay Mihaylov, who remained on the goal-line watching how the ball is flying towards the head of the Danish striker. In the second half we battled bravely to save the draw and we earned the point. Four days later, we continued our inspirational fight in Prague and held the Czechs, EURO 2012 quarterfinalists, to a 0-0 stalemate. Now I hope that Bulgaria will be even stronger in the spring :)
As far as Poland is concerned, I was not able to watch the 2-2 draw at Montenegro and the 2-0 home win over Moldova but I saw the last game vs. England (1-1). And I must admit that I was quite pleased with what I saw :) We totally dominated the Premier League stars but were unable to score more than one goal in order to win the match. Our players were attacking with passion and creating chances but when it was time to make the final “killer” pass, they were not precise enough or were making wrong decisions. It is obvious that England are far from their best form but they were very, very poor on Wednesday 17th October and I really regret that we missed a golden opportunity to beat them :( Anyway, I think that Poland’s chances to qualify for the World Cup are good as we have 5 points out of 3 games and sit third in the group standings. After the EURO 2012 fiasco, which saw our team finishing at the bottom of the weakest group, the only way is up!
At the end of this blog post, I would like to mention the ridiculous situation with the roof of the Polish National Stadium. During the EURO 2012 opener between Poland and Greece the weather was good for football but the roof was closed and it was hard to breathe. In contrast, it rained heavily before the Poland – England game but the roof was left open and the pitch became perfect for swamp football. It takes only around 20 minutes to open or close the roof but someone was not able to make the right decisions at the right time. I hope we will avoid similar problems in future!
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