SOFIA (Reuters) - England made a significant statement against racism by beating Bulgaria 6-0 in a Euro 2020 qualifier that was twice halted by the referee after abuse of the visiting players, manager Gareth Southgate said on Monday.
The match in Sofia was a high-profile implementation of a three-step protocol from European soccer’s governing body UEFA designed to tackle racist abuse from the crowd.
“I don’t think that’s ever been a situation that’s happened before in international football,” said Southgate. “For me, an even bigger statement was the way our players played.
“We’ve got players that have been through something they should never have to experience but have actually come off with a smile on their face because of how they’ve played.
“They always want the story to be about football but they’ve also been part of something that I think will be bigger.”
England centre-back Tyrone Mings, who was making his senior debut and brought Southgate’s attention to the first incident after being targeted, said the players had made a collective decision to continue after halftime.
“I think the way that we handled it, and the appropriate steps that were in place in the protocol that the team and us as players followed, was effective,” he added.
“I’m very proud of the way that we handled it and let the football do the talking.”
“The second half was better. We obviously made a collective decision at halftime to come back out and play the game and see if anything changed.”
His England team mate Raheem Sterling, who scored two of the goals, said on Twitter that he felt sorry for Bulgaria “to be represented by such idiots in their stadium.”
Defender Harry Maguire added on his Twitter feed: “The best way to bounce back. Proud of the team. There’s no place in football for that - disgraceful behaviour. Something must be done.”
Jesse Lingard, who was not in the England squad for the match, said: “Every one of those @England boys are stronger than those who chose to destroy the beautiful game! @UEFA must do something about this! #Shameful”
His Manchester United team mate Marcus Rashford, who scored the seventh-minute opener, thanked England’s fans for their support.
“Not an easy situation to play in and not one which should be happening in 2019. Proud we rose above it to take three points but this needs stamping out,” he said.
Rashford also praised Bulgaria captain Ivelin Popov, who spent time talking to the home fans through the metal fence at the break.
“Also been told what the Bulgaria captain did at halftime. To stand alone and do the right thing takes courage and acts like that shouldn’t go unnoticed,” he said.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Ken Ferris