Belgium 0-2 Bulgaria
Bulgaria seized the initiative in EURO 2004™ qualifying Group 8 with a surprise win over Belgium in Brussels. The Red Devils had no answer to goals in each half from Zoran Jankovic and Stilian Petrov as new coach Aimé Anthuenis stumbled at the first hurdle in qualifying for the finals in Portugal.
Balakov draws first blood
Belgium looked comfortable in the opening stages, but failed to turn possession into chances against a tenacious Bulgaria side determined to pick up their first points. Against the run of play, the visiting side went ahead on 17 minutes when playmaker Krassimir Balakov burst down the left before crossing for the on-rushing Zoran Jankovic to head in off the bar.
Red Devils fire blanks
Belgium hit back, but again struggled to make the most of their possession. Peter Vanderheyden should have pulled the home side level before the break, but his header off Bart Goor's cross sailed tamely over the bar. Zdravko Zdravkov in the Bulgaria goal then thwarted Emile Mpenza, turning away the striker's shot from the edge of the area.
Anthuenis showed his attacking intent from the start of the second half when he brought on Mbo Mpenza for the ineffective Gaetan Englebert, but the switch made little difference as again the Bulgarian defence was able to soak up the home side's pressure.
Eighteen minutes into the second half, Petrov sealed victory for Bulgaria with a free-kick from 30 metres that deflected off the Belgian wall to leave a wrong-footed Gert de Vlieger stranded. Belgium wilted after the second goal and a confident Bulgaria might have added to their advantage if not for De Vlieger who twice denied Guerorgui Peev with brilliant reflex saves.
Bulgaria prove point
"We came to Brussels to show that we can play football on a European level," a delighted Bulgaria coach Plamen Markov said. "We did what we had to do against a quality side. I think four teams - Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia and Estonia - all have the same chance in this group."
Defence too strong
Anthuenis, meanwhile, conceded that the better side had won. "Bulgaria deserved to win," he said. "They are a quality side and defend well. After they opened the scoring, I knew it would be very hard for us to get back into the game, as they defended well and we could not get the ball to the feet of our forwards."