Saturday, November 19, 2016

Bulgaria Update

For the fifth year in a row, the 2015-16 Bulgarian A soccer title went to PFC Ludogorets Razgrad.  So once again, Ludogorets Razgrad was eligible for the Championship of Europe.  Here's how they've done.

They started in the Second Qualifying Round in mid-July, where they played Mladost Podgorica, the champions of Montenegro.  Ludogorets crushed Mladost over two legs, 2-0, and 3-0, and they were on to the Third Qualifying Round.

In the Third Qualifying Round, which took place in late July and early August, Ludogorets played Red Star Belgrade, the champions of Serbia.  On July 26, the teams played to a 2-all tie in Razgrad before a crowd of 7,759.  (That's pretty much a capacity crowd in Razgrad.)  The teams then went to Red Star Stadium, in Belgrade, where 50,223 fans showed up.  This game was a cracker:

After 17 minutes, Red Star led 1-0 on the night, and 3-2 on aggregate.
After 24 minutes, the score was 1-1 on the night, 3-3 on aggregate, and Red Star led on the Away Goals rule.
After 40 minutes, Ludogorets led 2-1 on the night, and 4-3 on aggregate.
After a penalty kick in the 62d minute, Red Star and Ludogorets were tied 2-2 on the night, and 4-4 on aggregate.  They were also tied 2-2 on the Away Goals rule.  So the game went to extra time.

And in extra time, Ludogorets's Brazilian star -- Wanderson -- completed a hat trick with goals in the 92d and 97th minute.  (He had also scored in the 40th minute).  So Ludogorets won 4-2 in Belgrade, and 6-4 on the night.  You can see the highlights here.

With that thrilling victory, Ludogorets advanced to the Playoff Round, where they took on Viktoria Plzen, the champions of the Czech Republic.  This time, 11,812 folks turned up at the Vasil Levski National Stadium in Sofia for the first leg on August 17, where Ludogorets rolled to a 2-0 victory.  Six days later, Ludogorets got a 2-2 draw in Plzen, and they were ON TO THE GROUP STAGES!  This was only the third time any team from Bulgaria had turned that feat.

Ludogorets Razgrad (BUL) was drawn into Group A, along with Arsenal (ENG), Paris Saint-Germain (FRA), and Basel (SUI).  Due to UEFA rules, Ludogorets played their home games at the National Stadium in Sofia.  Here's how they started (home teams listed first):

09/13/2016:  Basel 1 - 1 Ludogorets Razgrad
09/28/2016:  Ludogorets Razgrad 1 - 3 Paris Saint-Germain
10/19/2016:  Arsenal 6 - 0 Ludogorets Razgrad

Their next game, in Sofia on November 1, was against Arsenal.  A crowd of 30,862 showed up to see Nick Hornby's favorite team take on the Champions of Bulgaria.  It was quite a game, as you can see here. In the 12th minute, Cafu gave Ludogorets a 1-0 lead.  And then, three minutes later, Ludogorets tacked on another goal to go up 2-0.  Bulgaria was transported!  But Arsenal struck back six minutes later, making the score 2-1.  Late in the first half, the Gunners headed in another goal, and we were all tied at 2.  It was a tense second half, as Ludogorets sought a famous victory.  But in the 86th minute, Mesut Ozil, a star for the German National Team who is one of the greatest players in the world, got the ball at the back of the Ludogorets defense, and he made a spectacular goal to win the game for the Gunners, 3 to 2.

So the standings in Group A look like this:

Arsenal:  3-0-1 (10 points) 
Paris Saint-Germain:  3-0-1 (10)
Ludogorets Razgrad:  0-3-1 (1)
Basel:  0-3-1 (1)

With only two group games left, Ludogorets is too far behind to reach the knockout rounds.  But once again, they have made a noble effort.

1 comment:

  1. Great report. And terrific for Ludogorets and Bulgaria. This is one of my favorite of HP's annual specials. It has really taken off in a way that I imagined (but have failed to carry out) with Labor Day-weekend CFL updates.

    By the way, I just checked, and the CFL played its semifinals yesterday. In the West, the Calgary Stampeders beat the British Columbia Lions, 42-15. In the East, the Ottawa REDBLACKS beat the Edmonton Eskimos (or "Esks"), 35-23. The championship is Nov. 27 in Ottawa. I think I will be rooting for the REDBLACKS to win their first-ever Grey Cup, because Ottawa is probably my favorite city outside the United States. Calgary, meanwhile, won the 2014 championship and will be playing for its eighth Grey Cup.