Bulgaria, Paraguay Battle to Scoreless Tie
By Dusan Stojanovic
Friday, June 12, 1998; 10:49 a.m. EDT
MONTPELLIER, France Bulgarian goalkeeper Zdravko Zdravkov leapt high to his right to deny Paraguayan counterpart Jose Luis Chilavert from converting a second-half 25-meter free kick, leaving the two sides with a goalless draw in their World Cup opener Friday.
The Bulgarians played the final two minutes with only 10 men after Anatoli Nankov earned his second yellow. Paraguay had two good chances following the sending off, but failed to convert.
Chilavert, famous for coming forward on set pieces and as an extra attacker, curled a left-footed blast over the wall in the 78th minute, only to have Zdravkov punch away the shot as it approached the crossbar.
Saudi referee Abdul Rahman Al-Zeid awarded the free kick when Trifon Ivanov hauled down Paraguayan forward Jorge Campos.
Paraguay dominated the second half, getting several chances before Chilavert's free kick.
"We lacked poise to finish the plays,'' Paraguay Coach Paulo Cesar Carpeggiani said. "We always missed the last pass.''
Hristo Stoichkov set up the best Bulgarian opportunity in the second half when he charged into the box from the left, crossed the ball to an unmarked Luboslav Penev, who blasted high from six yards with only Chilavert to beat.
"We had some tactical errors on both sides of the defense,'' Carpeggiani said. '' But we made som adjustments and improved in the second half. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to win. We lacked the finishing touch.''
The match was a game of missed opportunities.
Stoichkov hit the post in the 35th minute, beating two defenders and knocking the ball off the upright with a left-footed shot which had Chilavert totally beaten.
The Bulgarians, considered favorites in the Group D match, opened up with several swift atacks and a shot by Kressimir Balakov that just missed in the second minute.
Two minutes later, a Stoichkov was upended in the Paraguayan box but his pleas to Al-Zeid went unheeded.
The Paraguayans rarely threatened the Bulgarian goal, taking 19 minutes before Carlos Morales' got their first shot, a free kick that had to be stopped by Zdravko with a diving save.
Their best chance of the half came in the 40th minute when forward Jose Cardoso was left all alone in the Bulgarian penalty area, but his shot from 15 meters skidded wide of the right post.
Stoichkov was yellow-carded in injury time for a reckless tackle.
© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press