Bulgaria 1 Croatia3
Bulgaria are all but out of contention for the World Cup 2006 finals after a home defeat to unbeaten Group Eight leaders Croatia.
Coming into the game on the back of two disappointing results in the March round of qualification matches, Bulgaria's coach Hristo Stoichkov needed a win to keep his side's hopes for Germany 2006 alive, while the visitors could have afforded a draw at the hostile Vasil Levski stadium. Starting the game with three up front, Bulgaria soon found themselves overwhelmed in midfield, and it came as no surprise when Marko Babic scored for the visitors in the 18th minute. Niko Kovac created space down the left before passing to Niko Kranjcar who in turn set up Babic to strike a fine shot into the back of the net.
The best chance Bulgaria had for an equaliser came in the 31st minute, but Dimitar Berbatov headed over from seven metres. The second-half started off with the visitors looking confident and comfortable, soaking up pressure and then hitting Bulgaria on the counter attack.
One such counter attack resulted in the second goal in the 58th minute when Igor Tudor scored a splendid solo effort from just inside the area.
The Bulgarians attacked until the end, but had to rely on set pieces to threaten Croatia's goal. Bulgaria got themselves back into the game in the 73rd minute through a well-struck free-kick by Martin Petrov which deceived Tomislav Butina in the Croatia goal.
Though the goal injected some spirit into the Bulgarian squad, their hopes for getting something out of the game were soon ended by the visitors. In the 80th minute a bad pass in his own area by substitute Zdravko Lazarov gifted the ball to the visitors.
Niko Kranjcar picked the ball up and went past Iliyan Stoyanov before going one-on-one with Ivankov in the penalty area and beating him easily with a well placed shot.
An additional blow to Stoichkov's squad was a needless yellow card late on by Berbatov - earned for kicking a ball after the whistle was blown and meaning he will miss the next game against Sweden.
Bulgaria Ivankov, Kirilov, Iliev, Stoyanov, Kishishev (Lazarov 55), Stilian Petrov, Georgiev, Yankov, Martin Petrov, Ivanov (Bojinov 46), Berbatov.
Subs Not Used: Kolev, Topuzakov, Aleksandrov, Yanev, Kamburov.
Booked: Stoyanov, Berbatov.
Goals: Martin Petrov 72.
Croatia Butina, Robert Kovac, Tomas, Simunic, Tudor, Srna, Babic, Nico Kovac, Kranjcar (Jerko Leko 82), Prso, Olic (Balaban 90).
Subs Not Used: Pletikosa, Simic, Tokic, Klasnic, Ivan Leko.
Booked: Olic, Tudor, Robert Kovac.
Goals: Babic 18, Tudor 58, Kranjcar 80.
Ref: Kim Milton Nielsen (Denmark).