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12 June 1998 Group D Montpellier - Stade de La Mosson
Paraguay Bulgaria
The opening game in Group D, branded the 'Group of Death', ended in the first goalless draw of the tournament as Paraguay and Bulgaria struggled to find a cutting edge in the Stade de la Mosson, Montpellier. Indeed it was left to the the South Americans' swashbuckling goalkeeper, Jose Luis Chilavert, to produce the best moment of the match with a trademark 25-yard free-kick. The Bulgarians started by far the brighter of the two sides and Hristo Stoichkov was denied a fourth-minute penalty as the Europeans laid seige in the Paraguay half with unabated pressure. Veteran striker Stoichkov went closest to opening the scoring only to see his well-struck left-footed snapshot strike a post after 36 minutes. Apart from a clear opportunity for Paraguay's Cardozo, on a rare breakaway in the 42nd minute, it was all Bulgaria with 14 first-half goal attempts indicating that with games to follow against Spain and Nigeria that this was potentially their best chance of gaining all three points. After the interval the Paraguayans stepped up the pace and pushed more men forward in support of the lively Benitez, but all too often the final ball or finishing effort lacked the quality and precision to trouble a stubborn Bulgarian defence. On 73 minutes the crowd were treated to the sight of Chilavert lining up an optimistic free-kick and the Paraguay 'keeper showed why he has scored 41 goals, including five for his country, when his swerving, dipping left-footed effort was just clawed out of the top corner by Zdravkov. Both sides had openings to win the match with Stoichkov firing into the side-netting at one end and Caniza hooking over at the other before Ramirez drove straight at the 'keeper in the last minute. Bulgaria's Anatolic Nankov became the first player to be sent off at France 98 for a second bookable offence and will miss the next game against Nigeria.
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