Alexandar Tonev marked only his second start for Bulgaria with a hat-trick in a 6-0 FIFA World Cup Group B triumph against Malta, but knows his place for Tuesday's meeting with Denmark remains far from certain.
Brought into the starting lineup in place of the injured Stanislav Manolev, the 23-year-old KKS Lech Poznán winger marked the occasion with his first goal within seven minutes of kick-off, then rounding off a treble with a fine individual effort and a shot from distance after the break. "We are absolutely delighted with our performance and the result against Malta," said Tonev. "We got the three points and that's the most important thing for us."
Bulgaria are now just a point adrift of section leaders Italy, though Luboslav Penev's side have played a game more, and Tuesday's meeting with Denmark presents a great opportunity to keep the pressure on. Tonev would love to be in the starting lineup in Copenhagen, but knows there are no guarantees. "No, I do not think that this hat-trick will mean I will start on Tuesday," he said. "If you train well, you will start. If not, you will be on the bench. I hope we will have the physical strength to compete with Denmark. It will be really a hard game on Tuesday and we all should be ready."
Tonev's treble was the first for Bulgaria since Dimitar Berbatov hit three against Georgia in a World Cup qualifier in 2009, and was also the first of the former PFC CSKA Sofia player's career. "Obviously, I am delighted with my first professional hat-trick and I hope it won't be the last," added Tonev, who moved to Poland in 2011.
That next challenge was the main thing on Penev's mind as his side celebrated their victory. "I did not expect such an emphatic win," he said. "It did not come easily, as the result might suggest. We scored early goals in each half, which is very important against sides like Malta. The boys worked well and the result is good, but this game is history now. We cannot be too proud. We have to refocus for Tuesday. We should approach the game against Denmark in a positive mood. We have to be confident and believe in ourselves."
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