Posted: 8/31/2017


         The National Stadium in Sofia is named after the most famous Bulgarian hero of all time..Vasil Levski.  On February 18th 1873 he was hanged by the Ottoman Turks for trying to free his country from their oppression.  At that very place is a monument to the great man. Three years later Bulgaria was free after the Ottomans lost in the Russo-Turkish War, and they never returned.

       Tonight in the stadium there was another hero. His name is Plamen Iliev, a goalkeeper who plays his club football  for Astra FC of Romania. Not only did he save a first half penalty but pulled off some miraculous point blank saves and tipped many hard shots over the bar and outside the posts. 

       The visitors who topped Group A in the European qualifiers for FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 had 59% to 41% possession but came up short in a 5 goal thriller in front of s sparse crowd of msybe less than 10,000 with both end zones empty.  After Stanislav Manolev opened the scoring in the 12th minute,  Plamen saved a penalty a few minutes later.  Georgi Kostadinov gave the home team the lead in the 33rd minute after Mikael  Lustig of Celtic had levelled the score. Marcus Berg made it 2-2 just before half time. 

        Ivaylo Chochev scored the winner in the 79th minute. Sweden travel to Minsk, Belarus for their next match in three days time, after Belarus was shocked 1-0 away in Luxembourg on a night of surprises. No more Zlatan, who has retired from the national team and no other savious in sight.  Goalkeeper Robin Olsen was a bit of a clown on the night with unsteady hands.

       Back in 1994 at The Rose Bowl in Pasadena I saw these two countries play for third place at FIFA World Cup USA.  The Swedes won 4-0 with all the goals coming in the first half from Tomas Brolin, Hakan Wild, Henrik Larsson and Kennet Andersson in front of 91,000 fans... but many had received free tickets to pack the stadium.

      France surprised The Netherlands 4-0 in Paris, Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat trick in a Portuguese 5-1 thrashing of the Faroes and Belgium put 9 passed hapless Gibraltar in Liege. In Asia Group B Japan qualified for Russia with a 2-0 win over Australia in Saitama.

     France lead UEFA Group A with 16 points followed by Sweden with 13 and Bulgaria 12. Netherland are in 5th place with only 10 points and look to be out of the race.