England players “overreacted” to the Bulgarian crowd’s monkey chants during a UEFA Euro 2020 qualifier on Monday, says the country’s goalkeeper Plamen Iliev.
The game in Sofia was stopped twice in the first half due to the actions of the home fans, who were photographed making Nazi salutes. The English Football Association (FA) tweeted at the time that the crowd’s actions were “unacceptable,” condemning the “abhorrent racist” behavior.
Iliev, who plays at club level for Ludogorets Razgrad, denies hearing or seeing any such conduct however, and insists the Bulgarian crowd at The Levski Stadium “behaved well.”
“If I am honest, I believe they [the fans] behaved well today,” Iliev said, according to The Guardian. “There wasn’t any abuse [as far as I could hear] and I think they [the England players] overreacted a bit.
“The public was on a good level I didn’t hear any bad language used towards their or our players.”
Iliev’s comments form part of a worrying pattern of denial on behalf of the Bulgarian staff and media, regarding Monday’s match.
The country’s coach, Krasimir Balakov, also refused to admit the racist behaviour coming from the stands , saying after the game that he “did not hear the chanting”, whilst criticizing the behaviour of the England fans instead.
England boss Gareth Southgate was thenreportedly told to “f— off” by one Bulgarian journalist in his post-match press conference, while another said “the game was so friendly”,according to Eurosport.
Prior to Monday, the president of the Bulgarian Football Union (BFU), Borislav Mihaylov, released a statement in which he criticized England’s worries about potential abuse , citing its “ongoing battle with hooliganism” as a factor.
He has since announced his resignation after the country’s prime minster, Boyko Borissov, urged him to quit.
“I urge Borislav Mihaylov to immediately resign as president of the Bulgarian Football Union,”Borissov said on a post on Facebook.
“It is unacceptable for Bulgaria, which is one of the most tolerant countries in the world and people of different ethnicities and religions live in peace to be associated with racism and xenophobia.”
England won 6-0 on the night.