Marcus Rashford hailed Bulgaria captain Ivelin Popov for attempting to halt the racist abuse aimed at England players during Monday’s match in Sofia.
England won the Euro 2020 qualifier 6-0 but play was twice halted due to racism from the stands, which players had reported to officials as part of UEFA’s three-step protocol.
At half-time, following the second stoppage and after TV cameras showed a number of fans leaving the stadium, Popov was seen deep in discussion with a group of supporters at the side of the pitch.
Bulgaria captain Ivelin Popov had a heated discussion with some Bulgarian fans during the break of tonight's #BULENG qualifier after the match had been stopped twice for racist chants in the first half pic.twitter.com/8u0a1CGcoa— mshumanov (@shumansko) October 14, 2019
And Rashford, who scored England’s first goal of the game, hailed Popov for taking a stand.
The 21-year-old tweeted: “Been told what the Bulgaria captain did at half-time. To stand alone and do the right thing takes courage and acts like that shouldn't go unnoticed. #NoToRacism.”
Also been told what the Bulgaria captain did at half-time. To stand alone and do the right thing takes courage and acts like that shouldn’t go unnoticed. #NoToRacism— Marcus Rashford (@MarcusRashford) October 14, 2019
Discussions over how England players would respond to such a scenario dominated the build-up to the game. Tyrone Mings, making his international debut, alerted the assistant referee to abuse he heard early in the first half. This was relayed to the referee who instructed the stadium announcer to issue a warning over the loudspeaker.
When the abuse continued, play was stopped for a second time just before half-time. This was the second step of UEFA’s three-stage process for dealing with racism. The third and final action would have been the abandonment of the match.
England manager Gareth Southgate was left calling the scenes ‘unacceptable’. In spite of the evidence, though, his Bulgarian counterpart Krasimir Balakov denied hearing any racist chants.
After the match, anti-discrimination group Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) added they will help UEFA build a ‘legally safe’ case to prosecute the hosts.
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