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Wednesday, June 9, 1999 Published at 19:01 GMT 20:01 UK

Sport: Football

England stutter in Sofia

False dawn: Alan Shearer raises England hopes with the opening goal

Bulgaria 1-1 England

England wasted the chance to take a significant stride towards the European Championships, as they stumbled to a draw against 10-man Bulgaria in Sofia.

Mike Ingham: "England draw but they can still qualify"
The result keeps Kevin Keegan's qualification hopes alive - but the coach will have expected a victory when Bulgarian substitute Martin Petrov was sent off in the second half.

And he will not have been too impressed by a scratchy performance against a side whose chances of reaching the finals were already over.

[ image: Kevin Keegan looks on as England fail to exploit the space]
Kevin Keegan looks on as England fail to exploit the space
Skipper Alan Shearer put England ahead in the 15th minute with a piece of vintage centre-forward play.

Everything looked healthy for the visitors following an impressive start - but within three minutes Bulgaria were level through Georgi Markov.

After their early moments of dominance - led by their three-pronged strikeforce - England's threat faded.

And even when Petrov was sent off for a second bookable offence they could find no way through.

Stoichkov stars

There were frequent scares at the back for England's three-man defence on an uneven pitch, as Bulgaria's veteran striker Hristo Stoichkov produced a virtuoso display in his last international game.

[ image: Out with the old: Debutant Woodgate challenges departing Stoichkov]
Out with the old: Debutant Woodgate challenges departing Stoichkov
One of the few signs of optimism for England came in the performance of teenager Jonathon Woodgate.

The Leeds defender showed he has the temperament for international football with an assured debut, which included one stunning tackle from behind to deny Radostin Kishishev a near certain goal.

Woodgate was unlucky to be replaced in the second half, as Keegan sought to exploit the numerical advantage by switching to a 4-4-2 formation.

But even the reshuffle could not provide the breakthrough as Bulgaria condemned England to another draw.

Redknapp denied

England were clearly in determined mood at the start following the adject display in the 0-0 draw with Sweden last Saturday and they thought they had gone ahead in the 12th minute.

[ image: Georgi Markov celebrates after levelling for Bulgaria]
Georgi Markov celebrates after levelling for Bulgaria
Jamie Redknapp's spectacular 30-yard free-kick arrowed into the top corner of Dimitar Ivankov's goal, but it was ruled out because the referee was not ready - to the disgust of England's players.

But the setback did not prove too costly, as two minutes later England were ahead - thanks to a Sunderland-Newcastle combination.

Sunderland's Michael Gray produced a deep cross from the left which caused chaos in the Bulgarian penalty area. Newcastle striker Shearer instantly latched onto a under-hit clearance, before swivelling and sending a low shot across the keeper into the far corner of the net.

It was the England captain's first goal in open play for his country for almost a year.

Bulgaria bounce back

But within three minutes Bulgaria were level.

One-time European Footballer of the Year Stoichkov sent a powerful cross to the far post, where Georgi Markov stole in to head the ball from close range past a leaden-footed David Seaman.

[ image: Michael Gray tries to kickstart flagging England]
Michael Gray tries to kickstart flagging England
Stoichkov was beginning to enjoy himself and eight minutes before half-time he carved open the England defence with a surging run and cross - but somehow Hristo Yovov missed the most straightforward of chances, scuffing the ball wide from three yards out, with the goal gaping.

England's big chance of victory came with half-an-hour left when Martin Petrov was sent off for a second bookable offence, after clattering Sol Campbell in the air.

It was an inauspicious introduction to the international scene for Petrov, who had been on the pitch for just eight minutes.

Alan Green: "Shearer swivels and scores to put England in front"
Teddy Sheringham put a header narrowly wide and David Batty saw a long-range shot saved by Ivankov, but otherwise England failed to produce too much of a attacking threat.

Bulgaria were at least as effective as England going forward, Stoichkov going close following another of his trademark bullish runs and Seaman saving well from Milen Petkov.

Keegan can at least take consolation from the fact that victory in Poland in the autumn could still secure England's place in a qualification play-off.


Bulgaria: Ivankov, Kichichev, Zagorchich, Stoilov, Markov, Kirilov, S Petrov, Stoichkov, Yovov, M Petkov, Iliev. Subs: Gospodinov, Borimirov, Grouev, Stoianov, I Petkov, Batchev, M Petrov.

England: Seaman, Gray, Neville, Southgate, Campbell, Woodgate, Redknapp, Batty, Sheringham, Shearer, Fowler. Subs: Ferdinand, Walker, Sherwood, Parlour, Dyer, Cole, Heskey.

Referee: Mario Van Der Ende (Holland)

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