New manager feels Bulgarians have quelled racism scourge

Bulgaria manager Georgi Dermendzhiev is confident the scourge of racism won’t return to the terraces when Ireland visit Sofia for the Uefa Nations League opener.
New manager feels Bulgarians have quelled racism scourge

Bulgaria’s head coach Georgi Dermendzhiev looks on during the UEFA Euro 2020 Group A football qualification match between Bulgaria and Czech Republic at the Vassil Levski Stadium in Sofia on November 17, 2019. (Photo by NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV/AFP via Getty Images)
Bulgaria’s head coach Georgi Dermendzhiev looks on during the UEFA Euro 2020 Group A football qualification match between Bulgaria and Czech Republic at the Vassil Levski Stadium in Sofia on November 17, 2019. (Photo by NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV/AFP via Getty Images)

Bulgaria manager Georgi Dermendzhiev is confident the scourge of racism won’t return to the terraces when Ireland visit Sofia for the Uefa Nations League opener.

His predecessor Krasimir Balakov became embroiled in controversy last October when denying he heard monkey chants from the home fans towards England’s black players in a 6-0 defeat.

Eventually, he quit, following President Borislav Mihaylov out the door as the federation were fined €75,000 and ordered to play their final home game behind closed doors.

A further home match will be closed to fans if Uefa detect repeat offences over the next 18 months.

Dermendzhiev doesn’t believe the game on September 3 is under threat, if they set up a Euro play-off final in Sofia at the end of the month.

“What happened last year was a disgrace and I don’t see it recurring ever again,” he stressed after his team were grouped with Ireland, Finland and Wales in Pool B4 at Tuesday’s draw in Amsterdam.

“I’m optimistic about this issue. It should not be heard at any sports venue.”

Despite enduring an abysmal Euro qualification campaign, in which they won just once, the Bulgars also have a backdoor route to the summer finals.

They meet Hungary in their semi-final on March 26, with the winner facing either Romania or Iceland five days later for a place at the finals.

“The play-off is the priority but the team is in a transitional phase,” added Dermendzhiev. “The degree to which we change the team will depend on whether we qualify for the Euros.”

Finland boss Markku Kanerva, like Ryan Giggs of Wales, will bounce into the Nations League as one of those 24 participants at the Euros.

The former player, who represented the Finns in Liam Brady’s testimonial match back in 1990, has dismissed the notion of them being a one-man team.

“Teemu Pukki has scored a lot of goals for both us and Norwich City but our success is not dependent on him,” he noted.

“We work as a unit very well, especially in defence. And we score goals, not just from Pukki.

“Our players will enjoy facing the Irish because Finnish fans follow the English Premier League. I can see this being a very even group.”

Meanwhile, Slovakia manager Pavel Hapal is ready to face Ireland in Bratislava, even if the coronavirus forces the fixture to be closed to fans.

“We are getting ready and don’t see any problem,” he said. “The hope is to have the match played in a full stadium but it is not our decision. People’s health is the priority.”

He doesn’t foresee any issue with the fitness of star man Marek Hamšík. The former Napoli attacker hasn’t played since the coronavirus in China but his club, the Rafa Benitez managed FC Dalian Yifang, have relocated to Spain.

“Marek will be 100% prepared,” Hapal affirmed. “His team is now in Spain and he’s getting ready for the match so he will definitely be in our team.”

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