|G||Bosnia and Herzegovina||Liechtenstein|
|C||Germany||Republic of Ireland|
|G||Lithuania||Bosnia and Herzegovina|
|C||Republic of Ireland||Kazakhstan|
Luboslav Penev says Bulgaria cannot afford for thoughts to drift beyond Tuesday's meeting with the Czech Republic as Group B goes down to the wire.
Victory would seal second spot behind Italy but to attain the real ambition of a FIFA World Cup play-off place they need to prevail by at least three goals and rely on favours elsewhere. Penev refuses to be drawn into that. "At the moment we can't afford to think about the play-offs; we must focus only on doing well against the Czech Republic," said the 47-year-old. "The aim is to play well and win. It's God's business whether we reach the play-offs."
It may well require a minor miracle for whichever team finishes second in the group to avoid the unwanted distinction of being the only group runner-up in European qualifying to miss out and only two of the four in contention have any hope. It could all have been different had Bulgaria won in Yerevan on Friday – they lost 2-1. "We want to finish the campaign the best way possible," said Penev. "Of course we regret the defeat in Armenia, but overall we can be proud of our efforts.
"Unfortunately, our qualifying group is the toughest of all in the European zone. Against the Czech Republic we will fight for the second spot that we probably deserve. We played very well in all our games [before Friday]. We can only regret missed chances in those games. We could have been in a much better position now," added the former PFC CSKA Sofia, Valencia CF and Club Atlético de Madrid forward.
Although the Czech Republic can still finish second, they would not reach the play-offs as they would be the ninth best runners-up in terms of their record against the teams first, third, fourth and fifth in their section. Still, there is something to play for having beaten Malta 4-1 on Friday.
"We need to win both of [this week's] games to keep ourselves in the highest possible pot for the upcoming draw of the next EURO, there is a prestige to play for and also players feel that another win would please Michal Bílek, who led them through the campaign," said interim coach Josef Pešice, without suspended defender Tomáš Sivok while forward Tomáš Pekhart suffered light concussion against Malta.
Petr Čech was also in attendance on Monday and admits he expects a busy night, a suspicion that Penev, approaching two years as Bulgaria boss, hopes to confirm. "We must take some risks as we have to score goals; we don't have a choice. But that will not mean we will play irresponsible football. We should play with style, character and tactical discipline."
Penev scored the last time Bulgaria beat the Czech Republic – then part of Czechoslovakia – in March 1988, the game ending 2-0. Yet even a repeat of that may not be enough.
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