Bulgaria 2 Cyprus 0
Bulgaria overcame the absence of star striker Dimitar Berbatov and reignited their hopes of World Cup qualification with a hard-fought win over Cyprus in Sofia to claim their first victory in Group Eight.
An early goal from Ivelin Popov and a second in injury time from Dimitar Makriev took the hosts to seven points in the group in a game in which Cyprus will feel they deserved more.
Bulgaria, without injured Manchester United striker Berbatov, were the more dangerous in the early stages of the first half with Dimitar Rangelov and Blagoy Georgiev a constant threat to the Cypriot defence but they failed to stamp their mark on the remainder of the game.
The hosts got off to the perfect start when, in the eighth minute, Rangelov skipped past Elias Charalambidis and whipped in a clever cross which the unmarked Popov headed off the post and into the net.
Bulgaria continued to pile on the pressure and were unlucky not to double their lead on 24 minutes when further poor marking allowed Rangelov a free header but his effort was well-saved by Antonis Georgallides.
The Cypriots had to wait until the 36th minute to register their first decent chance of the game. Michalis Konstantinou’s headed effort across the goal-line caused panic in the Bulgarian defence but Stanislav Angelov cleared the ball off the line with Chrysostomos Michael waiting to pounce.
Minutes before half-time, Stanislav Manolev was fortunate to escape a straight red card after he pulled down the speedy Stathis Aloneftis when the Cypriot forward raced on goal, but Swedish referee Martin Ingvarsson brandished only a yellow card for the 23-year-old Litex Lovech defender.
Cyprus were in control in the second half much to the displeasure of the home fans and Angelos Anastasiadis’ side missed two clear chances to equalise as Paraskevas Christou and Konstantinou were both denied by Bulgaria goalkeeper Dimitar Ivankov.
Georgiev then hit the bar for the Bulgarians and the three points were eventually sealed in injury time as a counter-attacking move involving Stiliyan Petrov and Velizar Dimitrov was neatly finished by Makriev tapping home his side’s second from close range.