After holding on to the runner-up spot in its qualifying group for the 2014 football World Cup for much of the campaign, Bulgaria finished fourth after suffering three defeats in its last four matches, a disappointing finish after losing none of their first six games.
Before the home match with the Czech Republic on October 15, Bulgaria remained in control of its fate and a win would have kept it second behind already-qualified Italy – but, after last week’s defeat in Armenia, making the World Cup play-offs was an improbable proposition and one that depended entirely on how results went in other groups.
In the end, Bulgaria’s defeat handed the runner-up spot to Denmark, but with results elsewhere going against them, the Danes too will miss out on the play-offs, the result of too many dropped points against fellow runner-up contenders along the way (including two draws with Bulgaria and a loss to Armenia).
Against the Czech Republic, Bulgaria once again looked devoid of ideas in attack, whereas their opponents looked incisive on the counter-attack, but the only goal in the match came from a long strike by Borek Dockal in the 52nd minute.
Another negative trend that Bulgaria kept alive was finishing with fewer than 11 players on the pitch, after defender Petar Zanev earned a dismissal for two bookable offenses. This was the third red card shown to a Bulgarian player in two matches and the fifth overall during this qualifying campaign.
Chants of “resign” were heard during the match from the Bulgarian supporters – but these were directed at the country’s government rather than head coach Lyuboslav Penev.
After the match, Penev said that an extension of his current contract would depend on talks with the Bulgarian Football Union (BFU) in the coming weeks – given that for much of the qualifying campaign Bulgaria exceeded the low expectations, generated by the team’s poor performances in previous qualifying campaigns, such an extension does appear likely.
Penev’s contract runs out at the end of the year and the BFU has the option to extend it for the next qualifying cycle. Both BFU president Borislav Mihailov and national team players have recently voiced their support for Penev to stay on as head coach.
And the good news for Bulgaria is that with the European championships format changing to expand the final tournament to 24 teams, its odds of finally ending the streak of failing to qualify for a major tournament may finally be brought to an end in 2016.