Sofia (AFP) – England’s Euro 2020 qualifier in Bulgaria was twice halted by racist chanting as they bounced back from a first qualifying defeat in 10 years with an emphatic 6-0 win in Sofia.
The visitors led 2-0 through early goals from Marcus Rashford and Ross Barkley when play was first stopped and an announcement made to supporters that the game could be suspended if offensive chanting continued.
Once restarted, England quickly made it 3-0 through Barkley before a second stoppage as Croatian referee Ivan Bebek held discussions with players and coaching staff from both sides.
Raheem Sterling then netted twice either side of half-time before Harry Kane rounded off the scoring to take England to the brink of qualification.
A comprehensive victory was the perfect riposte for Gareth Southgate’s men to their shock 2-1 defeat at the Czech Republic on Friday and opens up a three-point lead at the top of Group A.
However, the focus of attention was again on the stands as despite reassurances from Bulgarian manager Krasimir Balakov on the eve of the game, it was another England match blighted by racism from opposition fans.
After several English players suffered racist abuse in a qualifier away to Montenegro in March, Gareth Southgate had prepared his side to follow UEFA’s three-step protocol for reporting racist incidents that can lead to matches being abandoned.
A section of 5,000 seats at the Vasil Levski National Stadium was already closed for the game after racist incidents during games against Kosovo and the Czech Republic in June.
On the field, Southgate’s decision to make five changes from the side beaten in Prague on Friday was fully vindicated.
Rashford was one of those recalled in the place of Jadon Sancho and put his Manchester United woes behind him by smashing the opener into the roof of the net after just seven minutes.
Barkley then tapped home a second at the back post after a fine one-two between Kane and Sterling freed the Manchester City winger to drive a cross to the Chelsea midfielder.
The first stage of UEFA’s protocol followed as the game was temporarily stopped and a warning played over the loudspeaker in both Bulgarian and English that the match could be suspended after monkey chants were aimed at England players.
That warning was not heeded as after Barkley headed home Kane’s cross, there was a second, longer stoppage in play.