LONDON - He did it before as a player for
Germany and now Lothar Matthaus believes he can inflict more
misery on England as a coach by masterminding a surprise victory
for Bulgaria in Friday's Euro 2012 qualifier in Sofia.
Matthaus, who scored a penalty for Germany against England
in the 1990 World Cup semi-final shootout before leading the
side victory over Argentina in the final, is trying to revive
the fortunes of the Balkan nation that has fallen on hard times
since the heady days of a World Cup semi-final in 1994.
Fabio Capello's England, whose warm-up friendly against the
Netherlands this month was postponed because of London's riots,
lead Group G on goal difference from surprise package Montenegro
with Bulgaria and Switzerland six points behind.
Defeat would virtually knock Bulgaria out of contention but
despite a 4-0 drubbing at Wembley earlier in the group,
Matthaus, who took charge after that defeat, believes all is
not lost and his side can put a serious dent in England's hopes
of qualifying for next year's finals in Poland and Ukraine.
"If we beat England, we can still qualify and I truly
believe we can spring a surprise. We still have very good
chances to play at the Euro 2012 finals," former World Player of
the Year Matthaus told reporters.
"It's a key game for us, it's the biggest game for Bulgarian
football this year and we can gain the confidence that we need
so much. But that's not all.
"We have the players who are able to beat England. We lost
4-0 to England last year and this can't be changed but we can
learn from the mistakes in that match.
"Our players will be more confident on Friday because
they'll be playing in front of their supporters. We have to play
with courage and not be afraid of England. They have to win
because they are also away to Montenegro."
Bulgaria have never beaten England in nine previous clashes
and have scored just once in the four played on home soil and
Capello's side, whose away form has been more impressive than at
home where they have been held by Montenegro and Switzerland,
will be expected to gain three valuable points.
Capello will be heartened by the form of the sizeable
contingent of players from both Manchester clubs who are setting
a scorching early pace in the Premier League.
United's Wayne Rooney scored a hat-trick in his side's 8-2
thrashing of Arsenal last weekend while Ashley Young has
impressed at Old Trafford following his move from Aston Villa
and young guns Tom Cleverley, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones have
given the squad a fresh new look.
City's Joleon Lescott could partner Chelsea's John Terry in
the heart of defence with team-mates James Milner, Gareth Barry
and Adam Johnson all options for Capello in midfield.
"We might have more confidence than usual with the way the
season has started in our first three games," Lescott told the
FA's website of the feel-good factor in
Manchester. "I think we have done well."
While Capello's squad looks packed full of pace and goal
threat, Bulgaria are struggling to find a natural successor for
striker Dimitar Berbatov who has retired from international
football and are yet to score at home in Group G.
Bolton Wanderers winger Martin Petrov, who made his
international debut in the Euro 2000 qualifier against England
in 1999, will be one of his country's main attacking threats and
should be fit despite a back niggle.
Matthaus, however, will have to cope without central
defender Apostol Popov and midfielder Chavdar Yankov, who are
sidelined with long-term injuries.
Bulgaria: Nikolay Mihaylov; Ivan Bandalovski, Valentin
Iliev, Ivan Ivanov, Petar Zanev; Stanislav Manolev, Stilian
Petrov, Marquinhos, Blagoy Georgiev; Martin Petrov, Ivelin Popov.
England: Joe Hart; Micah Richards, John Terry, Joleon
Lescott, Ashley Cole; Theo Walcott, Frank Lampard, Gareth Barry,
Stewart Downing; Wayne Rooney, Darren Bent.
Referee: Frank De Bleeckere (Belgium).
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