Bulgaria captain Ivelin Popov has condemned the actions of home fans at the Vasil Levski National Stadium in Sofia on Monday, whose racist behaviour led to two first-half stoppages in the UEFA Euro 2020 qualifier against England.
England's players were victims of monkey chants from some of the home support, while television pictures showed some Bulgaria fans giving the Nazi salute:
Joe Prince-Wright @JPW_NBCSports
Truly disgusting scenes in Sofia. ITV shows footage of Tyrone Mings asking the linesman “have you heard that?” as he is clearly racially abused. Footage then shows Bulgaria fans making monkey chants, giving the Nazi salute and holding up shirts saying “UEFA No Respect” on them.
In line with UEFA protocol, play was twice stopped before the break and an announcement was made warning that the match would be abandoned if the behaviour continued.
At half-time during Bulgaria's 6-0 loss, Popov was seen remonstrating with a section of the home support, and he has now explained why he felt it was his duty to try to intervene, per Dominic King of the Daily Mail:
"It was important that I spoke with them at half-time because it is a very big problem for everybody—for our federation, for England and if they [the fans] said more bad words—even one more time—then maybe they would finish the game.
"We would have such a big punishment and this is no good for Bulgarian football because if some other players want to come here [to sign for clubs], they hear what is said and how they speak bad. This is no good for everybody.
"Did the England players ask me to do it? No. We are 11 vs. 11—your colour does not matter. It's no problem. We are all the same. We are one very big family in football, everybody and only we—if we are together—can stop these bad things."
Popov, who plays his club football for Russian side FC Rostov, added the actions of his compatriots were "terrible" and "must stop."
The 31-year-old was praised for his intervention in the aftermath of England's victory by Marcus Rashford, who scored the opening goal in Sofia:
Popov's response was in stark contrast to that of Bulgaria manager Krasimir Balakov, who refused to acknowledge any racism from the home support:
On the pitch, England made an emphatic return to form after their shock 2-1 defeat to Czech Republic on Friday.
Rahsford's stunning opener was followed by doubles from Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling before Harry Kane completed the rout five minutes from time.
It means Gareth Southgate's side sit three points clear of the Czechs at the top of Group A with two qualifiers remaining—against Montenegro and Kosovo next month.
Bulgaria, meanwhile, are rock bottom of the pool on three points having failed to earn a single victory in their seven qualifying matches so far.