Saturday, September 7, 2002
Full-time: Belgium 0 - 2 Bulgaria
BRUSSELS, Sept 7 (Reuters) - Belgium, under the leadership of new coach Aime Antheunis, made a disappointing start to their European championship qualifying campaign on Saturday when they lost 2-0 at home to Bulgaria.
Playing for the first time in the King Baudoin stadium since the World Cup qualifiers, the Red Devils dominated the opening minutes of the game inspired by striker Emile Mpenza.
Much had been expected of Antheunis's new look team, created after the departure of players including inspirational former captain Marc Wilmots, with fireworks marking the start of the game and scheduled to reappear at the final whistle in the event of a Belgian victory.
But home hopes were dashed when Bulgaria took the lead in the 16th minute after Martin Petrov sent a long ball to Zoran Jankovic who smashed it into the net.
The Bulgarians again looked dangerous a few minutes before halftime when midfielder Georgi Peev swerved past three Belgian defenders to fire a shot against the post.
Bulgaria's victory was complete when Krassimir Balakov cleverly dummied a free kick, opening the way for Stilian Petrov to smash the ball through a gap in the Belgian wall for a second goal in the 63rd minute.
'Not only did we lose at home but we lost three points - that really hurts,' midfielder Mpo Mpenza said. 'We let them penetrate too much.'
Although Belgium created several opportunities to score, they were unable to finish.
One of their best early chances came in the 12th minute when Emile Mpenza sent a Bart Goor volley to Peter Vanderheyden whose header was saved by Bulgarian goalkeeper Zdravko Zdravkov.
Antheunis, conceding that Bulgaria were the better team, said his players had done their best.
'We can't complain about the players,' he said. 'They marked well, they played well defensively.'
However, the former Anderlecht coach will have to reconsider his strategy if Belgium are to have a chance of qualifying for the European championships which they co-hosted in 2000.
'There is little reason for me to be happy tonight,' said Jan Peeters, president of the Belgian football federation, adding that it was vital that Belgium win their next qualifiers at home.
Belgium also face Croatia, Estonia and Andorra in qualifying group eight.
congrats on the victory, guys...