Bulgaria boss denies hearing chants, angry Henderson demands apology

Racist chanting twice brought a halt to England's 6-0 win in Bulgaria but Krasimir Balakov looked to avoid condemning his team's fans.

Bulgaria head coach Krasimir Balakov   -  Getty Images

Bulgaria head coach Krasimir Balakov claimed not to have heard racist chanting during his team's 6-0 loss to England in Sofia and accused the travelling supporters of "unacceptable" behaviour.

Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling each hit braces as Gareth Southgate's men bounced back from defeat to the Czech Republic in style, bringing qualification for Euro 2020 within touching distance.

But the contest was sullied by abuse directed towards some of the travelling players, which was reported to the match officials and resulted in two delays to the action before half-time.

READ : Barkley, Sterling at the double as racism mars England-Bulgaria clash

Before the match, Balakov accused England of having a bigger problem with racism in football than his own country, and he once again sought to share the blame after the widely condemned scenes that stained Monday's match.

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Bulgaria supporters during the game   -  Reuters

"I personally did not hear the chanting that you are most probably referring to. I saw that the referee stopped the game," he told ITV.

"But I also have to say that the unacceptable behaviour was not only on behalf of the Bulgaria fans but also the English fans, who were whistling and shouting during the Bulgarian national anthem.

"During the second half they used words against our fans, which I find unacceptable."

Balakov said he felt an increased focus upon the potential of racist incidents before the game made them more likely, while he called for the abuse to be "proven" despite audible monkey chants during the contest and the spectacle of some Bulgaria fans being ejected.

"We've had this problem ever since England were about to come to Bulgaria. All I've heard for three weeks is people talking about anything else but football," said Balakov.

"I don't think this was the proper manner to prepare and to play a football game. For three weeks, everyone was talking about one thing.

"If this turns out to be true, we are truly sorry and we as the Bulgarian national team and the Bulgarian Football Union are working very hard.

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Monkey chants and Nazi salutes were evidently seen across the stadium as Bulgaria hosted England in a Euro 2020 Qualifier tie.   -  Getty Images

"Nobody wants to see this but let me tell you that this really has not happened in our games up until now. This happened now in the England game.

"If something can be proven then we are sorry but we cannot speak on behalf of some fans here."

Marcus Rashford opened the scoring for England and tweeted after the match to praise Bulgaria captain Ivelin Popov for remonstrating with supporters at half-time.

Popov's move was widely interpreted as a call for discriminatory chants to stop but Balakov told a post-match news conference he felt the Rostov midfielder was responding to complaints over a poor performance.

"I have no idea about this. If our captain spoke to the fans it is probably because they were unhappy about the way in which the team were performing," he added.

"The whole topic in the build-up to the game – the fans are emotional. You want me to say this and I have to say this, if something happened I'm sure it really was a small group of people who really were out of their minds because this is unacceptable… if it happened, of course."

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The game saw multiple interruptions due to the chants directed at players of colour in the English team. Gareth Southgate and the members of the playing XI approached the match referee numerous times towards the same.   -  AP



Henderson demands apology

Jordan Henderson demanded an apology from Krasimir Balakov after the Bulgaria head coach did not offer outright condemnation of the racist abuse directed towards England players during their 6-0 Euro 2020 qualifying win in Sofia.

Henderson exchanged words with Balakov during one of the breaks in play and was aghast when he heard the 53-year-old had stated after the game that the allegations of racism must be "proven", choosing instead to criticise the behaviour of England supporters and a pre-match focus upon a potential for racist incidents.

"I had a few words with the manager. It wasn't acceptable – something needs to be done," the Liverpool captain told Sky Sports News.

"He needs to apologise now, really, on behalf of the team and the fans. He knows what was going on. He was asking me what the problem was.

"When I told him he knew what was going on, it was baffling how he didn't, really. Hopefully he looks back and apologises because anyone watching that game would be disgusted really."

England discussed whether they should resume the match at half-time and Henderson, angered by what had transpired, took pride in their unanimous response in the face of adversity.

"I felt angry," he said. "They're my team-mates, my friends who I've known for a long time and I share a dressing room with.

"It was shocking to see. I was so angry at one point but the game goes on, you've got to switch the focus to the football.

"At half-time we spoke about it, we wanted to carry on. If one person said they didn't want to go out then we wouldn't have done and that would have been it.

"But everybody's message was we wanted to make them suffer and not make them win. I felt we did that brilliantly."

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