It was a cold raining night in Stok…ooops Sofia, in an almost Vasil Levski empty stadium (15K Bulgarians, 1K French) completely drenched, for there was no roof to protect them but some flimsy colored ponchos.
It was an important game though, for the hosts and visitors alike; a win could give Bulgaria some hope of securing the group’s A second place and for France to keep that precious first place and be their own fate masters at the Stade de France for the group’s last game vs Belarus.
Despite or at least on paper, France’s armada of world known talent, didn’t give as many reassurances as one could expect; at their home, Bulgaria had won all their group games and furthermore they’ve been France’s Nemesis since 1932 ! Not only Les Bleus haven’t won a single game but because of another defeat vs their best enemies, they had to stay at home and watch the 1994 WC on their tv set !
It was a must win game for both teams but both managers had to work without some of their most important players: Ivelin Popov for Bulgaria, Paul Pogba and Benjamin Mendy for France.
The French started the game well, finding space despite the defensive 4-4-2 Bulgarian line; Lucas Digne instead of shooting, gave the ball to Blaise Mathuidi who netted it , thus giving the advantage to the Bleus, very early (3rd).
France continued to be dangerous but only for the first 30 minutes; N’Kolo Kanté had to leave the pitch injured(hamstring) and got replaced by PSG’s Adrien Rabiot.
The rest is history; without Chelsea’s gem, France just lost their grinta ; only five minutes later the home team could have scored but Hugo Lloris’ catlike reflexes. Kanté’s replacement Rabiot was more of a phantom player than the Parisian’s club leader!
Unfortunately, he wasn’t the only one; Kyllian MBappé, one of the most expensive and talented players in the World he was just as transparent…Alexandre Lacazette, Antoine Griezmann, useless; out of form or trying to keep that one goal advantage ?
The second half was one of the most boring of the qualifiers; both teams stayed put, France defending their meagre advantage in the middle of the pitch, while Bulgaria was trying to pass through. Didier Deschamps brought in Olivier Giroud and Dimitri Payet, but both of them stayed on the pitch, without attempting to bring some excitement to France’s dull game.
Thankfully, there were some good news for the team; Samuel Umtiti and Raphael Varane, were solid in front of Lloris and Lucas Digne showed why he should play in Layvin Kurzawa’s place. Bayern’s new signing Corentin Tolisso’s feat was very encouraging for his future in Bleu.
Bulgaria didn’t win, but some of their players showed good things, like Vasil Georgiev Bozhicov the best Bulgarian on the pitch, solid and serious when he was dealing with the french armada, Georgi Kostadinov, would have scored the equalizer(35th) Stanilav Manolev, such a great technicien and Spas Delev, so clever and cunning like a fox!
Here’s the players ratings :
BULGARIA ( Manager : Petar Hubchev)
Iliev, 5,5/10 Popov, 6/10 Bozhicov 7/10 Bodurov 4/10 Zanev 5/10 Kostadinov 6;5/10 Slavtchev 5/10 Nedelev 3,5/10 Manolev 6;5/10 Calabinov 3/10 Delev 6,5/10
FRANCE (Manager: Didier Deschamps)
Lloris, 6,5/10 Sidibé 6/10 Varane 7/10 Digne 7/10 Umtiti 6,5/10 Tolisso 6,5/10 Kanté(injured) Mathuidi 6,5/10 MBappé 4/10 Lacazette 5/10 Griezmann 4/10
HERE’S THE GAME’S HIGHLIGHTS : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CArXdey5Jcg