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24 June 1998 Group D Lens - Stade Felix-Bollaert
Spain Bulgaria
In an astonishing repeat of the previous night's events in Group B, Spain earned the win they thought would be enough to put them through to the last sixteen by hammering Bulgaria 6-1, only for Paraguay to produce a shock 3-1 victory against Group D winners Nigeria and so break Spanish hearts. The outcome of this match was seldom in doubt once Spain scored after just six minutes through Fernando Ruiz Hierro's penalty and they added further goals from Martinez Luis Enrique and Fernando Morientes, whilst playing some of the best fluent football of France 98 to date. However, when the news filtered through from Toulouse that Paraguay had taken a 2-1 lead on the hour mark the emotions from the Spanish supporters in the Stade Felix Bollaert Stadium, Lens, changed from cheers to tears. The 'Group of Death' turned out to be just that for Spain who were not only firm favourites to win the group but also many people's fancy for the competition following an excellent run of pre-tournament form that had seen just three defeats in 54 games. Javier Clemente made four changes to the side that had failed dismally in the 0-0 draw against Paraguay and from the start the shape and balance of the Spanish side appeared better than in the two previous games. Bulgaria, semi-finalists in the USA in 1994, fielded five players over 30 years old and boasted a wealth of World Cup experience with the likes of Hristo Stoichkov, Emil Kostadinov, Trifon Ivanov and Krassimir Balakov, but they were soon struggling against the pace and movement of the Spaniards. With Luis Enrique producing his brightest form of the tournament it was no surprise when he was felled in the area by Ivaylo Yordanov and Hierro scored the opener from the spot. Barcelona's versatility man then scored the second himself on 18 minutes after a superb sweeping three-man move down the right flank. Bulgaria could not live with Spain's delightful interpassing, as wave after wave of attacks saw Morientes go close with three magnificent first-half headers, two of which were saved superbly by Zdravkov, with the other smashing against the crossbar with the 'keeper well beaten after 39 minutes. The final action of the first half saw a rare Bulgarian attack with Luboslav Penev blatantly felled by Andoni Zubizarreta, but unbelievably the Dutch official Mario van der Ende refused to point to the spot despite lengthy protestations from the furious Penev who was then given a yellow card for dissent. Bulgaria replaced Stoichkov with midfield work-horse Iliev for the second half and immediately there was more urgency in their game. However, Morientes soon increased the Spaniards' lead with a tidy finish on 53 minutes from yet another Luis Enrique assist. Kostadinov hit back immediately with a quality goal to reduce the deficit, before the stadium was hushed by the news from Toulouse that Paraguay were leading 2-1 against Nigeria. Suddenly happy painted red and yellow faces in the 41,000 crowd became solemn and tearful and the Spanish players became blatantly aware of the situation they now found themselves in. All their efforts appeared in vain and Bulgaria took advantage of their dismay to launch a succession of attacks, with Kostadinov and Borimirov going close on four occasions. With ten minutes remaining Spain appeared to accept their fate and broke away to score a fourth through Morientes, following excellent play from his Real Madrid team-mate Raul. Batchev then scored an own goal after Kiko's header had rebounded off the crossbar, before the striker scored the sixth with the Bulgarian defence AWOL. A superb six-goal performance was little consolation for Spain as unbeaten Paraguay qualified as runners-up in Group D. Nevertheless, the Spanish have only themselves to blame for their early exit from France 98 after throwing away the lead twice against Nigeria and then failing to dispose of Paraguay.

(1-0) Hierro (6, pen). Luis Enrique picked up a ball on the left and surged into the area cutting across Yordanov whose rash challenge had the referee immediately pointing to the spot and Hierro stepped up to slot home right-footed into the left side of the goal with Zdravkov diving the wrong way.

(3-1) Kostadinov (56). The lively half-time substitute Iliev found Borimirov on the left-hand edge of the Spanish penalty area and he managed to feed the ball into the feet of the veteran striker who swivelled before surprising Zubizarreta with a fierce rising 12-yard drive that beat the 'keeper via his near post.

(2-0) Luis Enrique (18). In a sweeping move the Barcelona midfielder sent Etxeberria away down the right wing and sped into the area to receive the return pass, he held off the attentions of Nankov before finishing right-footed across the 'keeper and in off the far post from the angle of the six-yard box.

(3-0) Morientes (53). Luis Enrique picked up possession on the halfway line and with Alfonso making a decoy run on his right he slid the ball through the centre of the Bulgarian defence for the striker to run on and fire home a right-footed shot low beyond the 'keeper's right hand from the edge of the box.

(4-1) Morientes (81). Substitute Raul received a pass from Hierro and helped the ball on delightfully into the path of his Real Madrid team-mate who nicked it past the onrushing Zdravkov before rolling home a right-footed shot into the empty net from eight yards.

(5-1) Batchev (88, og). Raul's corner from the left was whipped in right-footed towards the near post where Kiko rose to power a header against the crossbar with the ball rebounding back to hit 'keeper Zradvkov before finally ending up in the back of the net off the shoulder of the unfortunate Batchev.

(6-1) Kiko (90). Hierro's lofted pass into the Bulgarian penalty area found the substitute striker in acres of space having beaten the offside trap and after controlling well he turned sharply before slotting the ball through the 'keeper's legs and into the right side of the goal from ten yards.

 
 
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