'There wasn't any abuse' - Bulgaria goalkeeper Iliev disputes England claims following racism storm
Bulgaria goalkeeper Plamen Iliev has claimed that there was no racist abuse from home supporters during their Euro 2020 qualifier against England on Monday and has accused Gareth Southgate's players of overreacting.
The Three Lions cruised to a 6-0 victory in Sofia to take themselves to the brink of next year’s showpiece tournament, with Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling both nabbing a brace.
But Sterling was one of the players targeted by racist chanting during the match, alongside debutant Tyrone Mings, which was stopped twice before half-time – initially for a stadium announcement calling for the abuse to cease before a group of Bulgaria fans were ejected from the Vasil Levski National Stadium.
Southgate and his players discussed whether they should resume the match during half-time before closing out a commanding win, with the abuse they received widely condemned afterwards both within and outside the footballing world.
UEFA formerly opened disciplinary proceedings against both teams on Tuesday, with Bulgaria cited for racism, though head coach Krasimir Balakov claimed he did not hear the offensive chanting and said it must be "proven" before his country received any punishment.
That view was apparently not shared at board level, with Bulgarian Football Union president Borislav Mihaylov – a former international goalkeeper for Bulgaria – tending his resignation after prime minister Boyko Borissov threatened to cut the organisation's funding if he remained in the wake of Monday's shameful scenes.
But Bulgaria's current goalkeeper fell into line with the views expressed by his coach.
"If I am honest, I believe they [the fans] behaved well,” Iliev said, as quoted by the Guardian.
"There wasn't any abuse [as far as I could hear] and I think they [the England players] overreacted a bit.
"The public was on a good level – I didn’t hear any bad language used towards their or our players."
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin called on the "football family" and governments to "wage war on the racists" on Tuesday in a strongly worded statement.
With just two games to go in Group A, England are fully expected to qualify for Euro 2020 when they return to action in November, though Bulgaria will have to pin their hopes on sealing a play-off berth instead.