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In the Box: Bulgaria's stunner

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When Dimitar Berbatov of Bulgaria stuck the final dagger into Mexico in the 80th minute this past Wednesday night scoring their third goals, Mexican fans began heading for home.

The match partly a celebration for Mexico's qualification for the 2006 World Cup in Germany became a platform for the future for Bulgaria, who won decisively 3-0 .


The game got of to a stunning start when an unlikely source for Bulgaria defender Yanko Valkanov hit a searing volley past Mexican goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez into the side netting in the fifth minute. Valeri Bozhinov of Fiorentina in Italy gave a Bulgaria a second in the 33rd minute which staked them a 2-0 halftime lead before Berbatov delivered the killing blow.

The game proved that ball possession and territorial advantage in modern-day soccer does not necessarily translate into winning. In fact it was Mexico's inability to find the final pass or idea in the attacking third of the field that led to their downfall .

Bulgaria also benefited from outstanding goalkeeping from Stoyan Kolev, who pulled off four outstanding and more importantly timely saves.

Sure, Mexico was without star players like Jared Borgetti, Rafael Marquez, and even potentially Cuahtemoc Blanco, who remains in a war with words with the Mexican national coaching staff.

Nevertheless, deficiencies floated to the surface.

Much like against the U.S. National Team Mexico still continues to have problems with the physical side of international soccer at times.

The bigger, stonger Bulgarian defenders manhandled Mexican striker Guillermo Franco and Kikin Fonseca in a mano-a-mano battle. The physical domination reminded many of the U.S./Mexico World Cup qualifier in Columbus, Ohio, this past fall where U.S. defender Oguchi Onyewu had his way with Borgetti apart from the difference that Mexico came into this game to attack.

Yet in defense of Fonseca and Franco the support from the Mexican midfield lacked clarity and definition especially from wide areas.

Only Omar Bravo, a second half sub with his pace and skill, caused deeper problems for the Bulgarian defense with the majority of his runs originating from wide on the right.

The bigger problem on this night was having conceded the tactic altering first goal from Valkanov before fans had settled in their seats. With that goal Bulgaria was able to dictate the tactics and play for the counter attack which they did effectively. With Stilian Petrov of Celtic pulling the strings in midfield the strike force of Berbatov, Martin Petrov and Valeri Bozhinov were dangerous many times catching Mexico over-committed into the attack.

So for the moment their could be concern for the "tricolore" if in fact they get drawn against a more physical European nation, which is likely in December at the World Cup draw. Yet one must look back to the performance of the 2002 World Cup where they defeated Croatia and drew with Italy 1-1.

Even more important will be the ability for the squad to remain focused around the circus and distraction around Cuahutemoc Blanco who has not be included in the squad. The egos of Blanco, assistant coach Jorge Campos and head man Ricardo LaVolpe will need to be kept in check in order to not effect the team.

As for the night at Reliant Stadium once again the support of soccer in Houston and specifically Mexican soccer in the form of either the national team or club teams has proven out. The atmosphere both in and out of the stadium was electrifying despite Mexico not playing to their best form.

The game concurred either brilliantly or through sheer luck with the announcement from the MLS that the San Jose Earthquakes could be moved to Houston in the near future. If it does in fact happen a lot of the credit needs to go to the Hispanic community in Houston for their unwavering support of international soccer provided by Lone Star Sports and Entertainment at Reliant Stadium.

Check out my radio program "The Soccer Hour with Glenn Davis' presented by Soccer4ALL this Wednesday as Commissioner Don Garber will be on my show addressing Houston and MLS plus his latest visit to Germany to speak with former German great Franz Beckenbauer.

Davis is a nationally recognized broadcaster for HDNET where he partners up with former U.S. National Team defender Marcelo Balboa. He was one of the lead voices for ESPN during the 2002 World Cup and has called major international soccer matches for the Fox Network as well.  He is a weekly columnist for the Houston Chronicle and hosts the "Soccer Hour with Glenn Davis" radio show presented by Soccer 4 ALL on ESPN 790 AM every Sunday from 5-6 pm.  Davis played soccer professionally for the Houston Dynamos where he was a league all star selection and team captain.
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