Bulgaria 6 (Tonev 6, 38, 68, Popov 47, Gargorov 55, Ivanov 78)
Alexander Tonev’s hat-trick helped Bulgaria hit Malta for six on Friday to move within one point of table leaders Italy in a match played behind closed doors because of racist incidents. Despite freezing, windy conditions that made passing difficult, Bulgaria produced an inspired display of attacking football at the Vasil Levski national stadium to remain unbeaten. Tonev put the home side in front with a diagonal shot – his first international goal, after just five minutes.
Tonev enjoyed a slice of luck for his second goal seven minutes before the break, his long-range effort appearing to pose little threat to Malta goalkeeper Andrew Hogg but he allowed the ball to slip through his hands. Captain Ivelin Popov made it 3-0 with an easy finish with youngster Georgi Milanov, who became Bulgaria’s Footballer of the Year in December, providing a clever assist from the left wing two minutes after halftime. Soon after, lively Emil Gargorov also managed to get his name on the scoresheet following a defensive mix-up and Tonev completed his hat-trick with another delightful shot from outside the penalty area. Defender Ivan Ivanov added a sixth goal 12 minutes from time.
The game was played without fans after FIFA punished Bulgaria following incidents during October’s qualifier against Denmark in Sofia when a group of fans racially abused Denmark’s midfielder Patrick Mtiliga.
Czech Republic 0
Denmark 3 (Cornelius 57, Kjaer 67, Zimling 82)
After a poor uneventful first half, the game kicked up a notch after the break. Copenhagen ace Andreas Cornelius showed the Danes’ change of intent by firing just wide of Petr Cech’s far post from range, but the 20-year-old was given a far better opportunity in the 57th minute. Nicolai Jorgensen’s backheel allowed Cornelius to power into space an unleash a rocket into the top corner to make it 1-0.
The goal opened up the match, and Denmark continued to press forward, determined to extend their lead. They’d find the net again ten minutes after the opener, when Christian Eriksen’s corner found Simon Kjaer at the near post. The big defender pulled off a spectacular header that left Cech helpless and ripped into the side netting. Eriksen very nearly added to that seconds later when his deflected shot bounced inches wide.
Although the Czechs needed to score, Tomas Rosicky was added to the mix in an attempt to add some sort of creativity to their midfield and they failed to make the most of their chances. They came close in the 77th minute when Matej Vydra fired goalward only to see his effort cleared off the line by Kjaer. And then Niki Zimling wrapped things up with a phenomenal long-range effort.
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