It was honours even between Hristo Stoichkov and Marco van Basten as the latter's Netherlands team came from behind to take a point against Bulgaria in Sofia.
Like their visitors, the home side have started the qualifying campaign in fine fashion and looked like taking all three Group G points thanks to Martin Petrov's goal inside 12 minutes. It was his fourth in three qualifying matches. Robin van Persie ensured parity, though, with an equaliser soon after the hour on a miserable night of driving rain when goalkeepers Dimitar Ivankov and Edwin van der Sar had the greatest influence.
The teams exchanged long-range efforts in the opening minutes, with Arjen Robben curling his shot wide and Van der Sar holding Petrov's free-kick. But Petrov made no mistake when he gathered the ball in the centre of the box and deposited it past Van der Sar. To make matters worse, Van Basten was forced to rip up his pre-match game plan when Dirk Kuyt was forced off through injury.
Ryan Babel came off the bench to replace him but it was fellow striker Van Persie who nearly brought the visitors level, hitting the crossbar from ten metres. Robben then twice tested Ivankov, first prompting the keeper to punch clear from 25 yards, then seeing his ten-metre attempt held. The hosts were repeatedly thankful to their keeper as the Netherlands peppered his goal, but with most of these efforts coming from distance, they could not complain at being one down at the break.
It was more of the same after half-time as the visitors laboured but failed to create many clear-cut chances. However, Wesley Sneijder's drive from distance finally heralded some Dutch dominance and the equaliser came when André Ooijer's centre from the right found Van Persie, who nodded in from close range. Sensing their opportunity, the Oranje pressed for a winner with Sneijder, Van Persie and Robben all making Ivankov work.
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Bulgaria were still dangerous, though, and substitute Valeri Bozhinov nearly snatched the points at the death only for his close-range header to produce a point-blank save from Van der Sar. Stoichkov's men, who have five points from three games, will be without the suspended Petrov when they go to Luxembourg on Wednesday, the same night that the Dutch, with seven points from their three matches, host Albania.