SPORTS DESK : 17 NOVEMBER, 2023, 4:44 PM
At least five policemen and ten football fans were injured in clashes outside the stadium during Bulgaria’s Euro 2024 qualifier against Hungary which ended in a 2-2 draw on Thursday, police said.
UEFA ordered the game in Sofia to be played behind closed doors after a request by the national federation that feared potential trouble following the fans’ call for a major protest against the Bulgarian Football Union (BFU).
Over 2,000 supporters gathered outside the national stadium shouting “Resign!” and holding banners “18 years is enough” to call for the resignation of long-time BFU president Borislav Mihaylov.
Violent clashes erupted after fans started to throw smoke bombs, pavement blocks, stones and beer bottles at police lines.
Some 1,600 policemen in full anti-riot gear were in place to ensure security.
Two water cannon were deployed to disperse the crowd — a measure put in place relatively rarely in the Balkan country.
“As a result of the aggression, five policemen were injured. About ten fans were also injured in clashes between rival groups,” the Sofia police directorate said.
An AFP reporter saw at least seven fans with various head injuries after police pushed away the supporters, who set fire to a police minivan and several garbage containers.
The Sofia emergency medical centre told state BTA news agency that it had received 19 reports for injured people during the clashes, including four fans hospitalised with head traumas.
“Several of the provocators were arrested,” the Sofia police directorate statement said.
Fans’ anger has built up in recent years over the poor results of the national team that has failed to qualify for any major tournaments and went through numerous changes of coach during Mihaylov’s time at the helm of the federation.
The controversial president quit in 2019 but then withdraw his resignation and was re-elected in 2021, despite a record marred by suspicions of match-fixing and a racist abuse scandal during a match against England in 2019.
Despite the point earned in Thursday’s draw, Bulgaria are last in their Euro 2024 qualifying group with three points from seven games.
Hungary qualified for the finals as a result of the draw. –BSS
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