The Bulgarian Football Union (BFU) has hit back at Gareth Southgate after England's manager said his squad will need to "prepare" for racial abuse when they travel to Sofia in October.

England beat Bulgaria 4-0 on Saturday at Wembley, and play the return fixture on October 14.

However, Stadion Vasil Levski will be partially closed for the fixture because of the behaviour of some sections of the Bulgaria fans in June.

Southgate stated that England's players – some of whom, including Raheem Sterling and Danny Rose, have been targeted already during Euro 2020 qualifying – were taking steps to be prepared for any abuse when they face Bulgaria.

The Football Association also said a fan in the Bulgaria section at Wembley was ejected and arrested for "discriminatory abuse".

"It is a concern, we're not confident that we'll go there and nothing will happen," Southgate said. "It's something that we've already planned. 

"We've already planned what our schedule looks like and we're going to discuss it with the players before we go, because we're aware that there is history there and we want to make sure that we're all prepared for what might happen and how we want to respond."

But Southgate's comments have not gone down well with the BFU, which issued an official statement in response.

"BFU president Borislav Mihaylov has sent an official letter to the UEFA General Secretary and the chairman of the Football Association Greg Clarke, expressing his indignation and disappointment following the public comments by Gareth Southgate and the suggestions that the English players will be subject to racial abuse by the Bulgarian supporters in the upcoming European qualifier in Sofia on October 14," the statement read.

"The BFU views such behaviour as groundless, inappropriate and unnecessary prior to the important and exciting football game that Bulgarian fans have been looking to in the past year. 

"We have not received any official information regarding discriminatory language used by a Bulgarian supporter at Wembley Stadium.

"Even if this were the case however, we believe that generalisations and the creation of needless tension by official members of the English team is absolutely unacceptable and in contradiction with the spirit of mutual respect and fair play, the core values of both UEFA and the BFU."

Gareth Southgate has welcomed Raheem Sterling becoming a star player for England and hailed the forward's increasing influence on and off the pitch.

Sterling initially struggled to turn his club form for Manchester City into high-level performances for the Three Lions, regularly facing strong criticism over his performances.

He branded himself "The Hated One" in a post on social media while enduring a difficult time during England's unsuccessful Euro 2016 campaign.

Since then, however, Sterling has grown to play a key role for England with a stunning run of eight goals in his past eight appearances demonstrating his importance for Southgate's side.

Sterling equalised in Tuesday's 5-3 Euro 2020 qualifying win over Kosovo and created a further three goals, including providing assists for both of Jadon Sancho's maiden international goals.

The attacker has also become a social figurehead, drawing praise for speaking out over racism and going viral for his interactions with supporters, with manager Southgate delighted to have a front-row seat to Sterling's continued rise to superstardom.

"For me, it's lovely to see the shift in the public opinion of him," Southgate said of the 24-year-old.

"That's still a brave thing to decide that: 'Right, I'm going to own that space and I'm going to put my own views across'. But those views represent many as well, so I think he's aware of the power of his voice, but he also doesn't waste it.

"I think he was very forthright in his social media posts [about racism]. I think he raised everybody's awareness and made us all think, which was very mature and impressive. And, at the same time, he rose to the challenge with his club, with new signings coming in.

"You know, when you are at a club like that, to keep fighting off the quality of players that he has; and straight away with us, got the goals in Spain - first game after the World Cup for him, really. Croatia away, Spain. I think it was such a huge weight lifted for him, he almost jumped six foot in the stadium, didn't he? 

"So I think from that moment - because he did come home a bit sad after the World Cup, there's no hiding from that. He didn't deserve to feel that way, but that's as he was, so it's lovely to see the recognition he's getting and how much extra I think that's bringing out of him.

"If there are things that he thinks can be better with the mentality of the players or the way that we've set the week out, he'll thoughtfully put ideas across; he doesn't just sit and complain.

"But then you see his interaction with the players. I noticed, over the last 24 hours especially [prior to facing Kosovo], he spent a lot of time with Jadon, I think that was probably quite a comfort.

"He can pass things on that I can speak [about] as the coach, but there'll be more depth to that if your fellow winger who has been at the same club as you, and has been through what you’re going to go through can talk to you. I think that's far more powerful. You can't quantify what that will have meant for Jadon."

Asked how Sterling will have felt to have been made a scapegoat earlier in his international career, Southgate said: "Difficult for me to say. I can only imagine. Everyone wants to be liked, don't they?

"Everybody, players give their all. He's a player that has always given his all… You know how much it means to him, how much he wants to do well.

"So, I think it's for him to reflect on how he might have felt then and, for me, it's just lovely to see a young man establishing himself, at the real top table in the game."

Southgate indicated he also sees an England future for Chelsea striker Tammy Abraham, who qualifies to play for Nigeria in addition to the Three Lions.

"Tammy is a young player that we’ve always liked, we know he'll score goals," he said. "We felt it was a bit early this time to call him up, but we really can see that he can offer us something moving forward.

"We gave him a cap back in November of 2017. For sure, we need to make certain that he feels that the opportunity is going to be there. I'm pretty sure he does, he knows us well enough."

Raheem Sterling acknowledges he cannot be compared to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo until he has performed at the highest level for a number of seasons, but that is his aim.

The Manchester City forward was in irrepressible form in England's 5-3 win against Kosovo on Tuesday, scoring an early equaliser and then laying on three assists in a stunning first-half display.

Sterling's performance continued an outstanding start to the new season, with eight goals to his name for club and country already.

The 24-year-old scored 35 times in the Premier League across the previous two campaigns, but he concedes he is still some way short of the standard set by all-time greats Messi and Ronaldo.

"The most remarkable thing about these players is not that they've been doing it for two or three seasons," said Sterling. "They've been doing it for pretty much their whole career, season after season.

"This is my third season at a high level, I would say, and I just have to keep continuing. I have full belief in myself.

"I have goals and they've been goals of mine since I was a child, and I'll keep thriving and keep learning and try to get all the way to the top, for sure."

Sterling had scored just twice for his country prior to visiting Spain last October but doubled his international tally with a brace in that away win and now has 10 goals in England colours.

"When I first put on the England shirt, I wasn't looking at my stats too much," he said. "It wasn't until I saw how bad they were I put extra pressure on myself to score.

"But I said to myself that once my first goal goes in, I know that the goals will come after that. That's all I was waiting for.

"That night in Spain when I scored two, from then I knew I'd kick on and keep scoring goals."

France coach Didier Deschamps admitted he would discuss penalties with Antoine Griezmann, but backed the forward to continue taking spot-kicks.

Griezmann missed a second penalty in as many games, failing to convert in a 3-0 win over Andorra in Euro 2020 qualifying on Tuesday.

The Barcelona forward was far more convincing at last year's World Cup, converting three penalties during France's run to the title.

Those efforts have Deschamps upbeat about Griezmann from the spot, but the coach admitted he would hold talks with the 28-year-old.

"Antoine, he doesn't gamble. When he had to score them, he scored them," he said, via RMC Sport.

"When they were decisive, he didn't tremble. It remains two failures.

"I will talk about it perhaps with him knowing, if there is another to shoot in October, he'll be there."

Griezmann became the first France player to miss two consecutive penalties over the past 10 seasons, having scored his first seven for his nation.

France are top of Group H in qualifying after collecting 15 points from six games.

"This is the clear and irrevocable proof that he is the best player in the world." That was the message from Portugal head coach Fernando Santos after Cristiano Ronaldo's four-goal display.

Ronaldo became the all-time leading scorer in European Championship qualifiers with 25 goals after leading Portugal past Lithuania 5-1 on Tuesday.

The 34-year-old superstar was unstoppable in the Euro 2020 Group B qualifying clash in Vilnius, where he celebrated his eighth Portugal hat-trick while improving his international tally to 93 goals.

A five-time Ballon d'Or winner among numerous other honours in a remarkable career, Ronaldo's standing in the game is often debated alongside Barcelona captain Lionel Messi.

But Portugal boss Santos has no doubt as to who the best player in the world is following another memorable Ronaldo display.

"This is the clear and irrevocable proof that he is the best player in the world," Santos said following the Euro 2020 qualifying rout away from home.

"There is no stadium in the world where Ronaldo is not applauded," Santos added. "He is the best in the world.

"We went to Paris in my first game, and the hotel in France was just across the street. There were a thousand people at our door."

Santos continued: "I think it's strange when he doesn't score. They say it is ending ... Nothing is ending. You have to be careful because it never ends."

Cristiano Ronaldo said he does not live thinking about individual prizes after being asked about the Ballon d'Or following his stunning four-goal haul for Portugal in Euro 2020 qualifying.

Ronaldo made history as his four goals led European champions Portugal to a 5-1 rout of Lithuania in Tuesday's Group B clash in Vilnius.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner became the all-time leading scorer in European Championship qualifiers after improving his tally to 25 goals, surpassing Robbie Keane.

Juventus superstar Ronaldo also took his international record to 93 goals after scoring his eighth hat-trick for Fernando Santos' Portugal.

Ronaldo – who is on the final shortlist for FIFA's The Best award – was asked about his chances of winning a sixth Ballon d'Or and the 34-year-old said: "As I always say, I don't live thinking about individual prizes.

"This is a consequence of what we collectively won. But it's good, I won't lie. The important thing was to help the team.

"I scored a goal against Serbia and four here and I'm very happy We have to dismiss this moment and what I want most is to continue like this."

Ronaldo scored 21 Serie A goals last season – and 28 in all competitions – as Juventus won an eighth consecutive Scudetto.

This season, Ronaldo has already scored once for Juventus, who are level on points with Inter and Torino atop the Serie A table.

Gareth Southgate believes Raheem Sterling has been close to "unstoppable" after his dazzling display in England's entertaining 5-3 win over Kosovo in Euro 2020 qualifying.

Sterling scored and set up three others as England came from a goal down at St Mary's Stadium to preserve their 100 per cent record in Group A on Tuesday.

England conceded inside 34 seconds but Sterling restored parity before the Manchester City star teed up Harry Kane and providing the assists for Jadon Sancho's brace.

Sterling's performance came after he scored and supplied two assists for Kane in England's 4-0 rout of Bulgaria last week, and manager Southgate heaped praise on the in-form 24-year-old.

"Our attacking play from Raheem, Jadon and Harry was outstanding," Southgate said. "Raheem's two performances have been of the highest level. 

"I think he's been almost unstoppable, his awareness of where defenders were, his ability to ride challenges, his vision and desire to get in on goal, and unselfish play as well, so I couldn't speak highly enough of the way he played."

It was a memorable outing for Sancho in Southampton, where the Borussia Dortmund sensation scored his first England goals.

"Jadon – you know we were talking about the three on Saturday – Jadon's performance was at that level as well. He worked really hard for the team without the ball and showed the ability he has to go past people, to be calm in tight areas," Southgate said.

"So, that part of our game was absolutely outstanding. We continued that threat for most of the game."

While England made it four wins from four games to be three points clear atop Group A, the Three Lions were far from convincing defensively against Kosovo.

Errors saw England concede three goals to the visiting minnows and Southgate added: "It was bizarre. The outstanding features and the poor features are apparent to everybody, so we don't need to get the video out and go back through it.

"Poor individual mistakes, a poor start to the game. I like the way we showed the composure to recover from that initial mistake and our use of the ball throughout the first half was excellent, right the way through the team.

"The small period after half-time: ridiculous mistakes, poor decisions, lack of covering back. So, we made the game really uncomfortable for ourselves. There were obviously mistakes that were concerning. Whether it was the intensity of the game, whether it was the pressure, I don't know. We've got to reflect on that but they were such basic errors, really, that you have to learn from. We just made some crazy errors."

Cristiano Ronaldo added another record to his collection after becoming the all-time leading goalscorer in European Championship qualifiers.

Ronaldo, 34, scored four goals as Portugal routed Lithuania 5-1 in Euro 2020 qualifying to take his tally to 25 goals.

It moved the Juventus superstar ahead of Robbie Keane, who netted 23 goals in European qualifying during his international career for the Republic of Ireland.

Keane had even jokingly begged the Portugal star to leave this record with him, writing on Instagram: "I think you have enough records @cristiano."

But within seven minutes Ronaldo had his first of the night from the penalty spot before adding three further goals to take his overall international tally to 93.

Ronaldo further strengthened his position as Europe's all-time leading international scorer, with footballing great Ferenc Puskas nine behind.

It was also Ronaldo's eighth international hat-trick for the reigning European champions and Nations League winners.

Cristiano Ronaldo is "enjoying this moment" after scoring four times to lead Portugal to a 5-1 thrashing of Lithuania in Euro 2020 qualifying on Tuesday.

Ronaldo starred for the reigning European champions in the Group B clash in Vilnius, taking his tally to 93 international goals.

The 34-year-old was happy for his team after the huge win lifted second-placed Portugal onto eight points.

"I'm having a good time, but the team was doing very well too," Ronaldo told reporters.

"I am happy and enjoying this moment, not because I scored the goals, but because of the level we have been able to demonstrate in recent years.

"It is up to me to continue helping the national team."

After back-to-back draws to start their campaign, Portugal recorded much-needed wins over Serbia and Lithuania.

Ronaldo feels Portugal – in second spot and holding a game in hand – are closing in on a place at next year's showpiece tournament.

"The hardest thing was winning in Serbia, and it was important to continue with a triumph here," he said.

"We are closer, we have two games – one at home and one away – and I think if we win one of those matches it's enough."

Portugal host Luxembourg and visit group leaders Ukraine next month.

Didier Deschamps has praised Kingsley Coman's "efficiency" after his strike in France's 3-0 win over Andorra in Euro 2020 qualifying on Tuesday.

The Bayern Munich winger scored his first goals for Les Bleus since March 2016 in Saturday's 4-1 win over Albania.

He followed that with the opener against Andorra, firmly staking his claim to start France's Group H double header against Iceland and leaders Turkey next month.

"I already told you that he's added efficiency since last season," Deschamps told a media conference.

"Dribbling, creating danger, he knows how to do it. To see him play this well is good for me. 

"In a month, I will make choices but I'm happy for him; he needed that. What he has done in these two games is the same level as what he has done with his club lately."

France were guilty of squandering a host of chances against a side ranked 133 places below them in the world – most notably through Antoine Griezmann's second missed penalty – but Deschamps refused to be too hard on his players after the game.

"It's good, even if the score should have been heavier because of the chances we created," he told TF1.

"We did what we had to do in these September games. We had to take the six points. The six points is good, but the next six will be important too."

Gareth Southgate accepted England made poor defensive mistakes in Tuesday's thrilling 5-3 defeat of Kosovo and demanded his side improve.

Raheem Sterling shone with a goal and three assists as England came from behind in an entertaining clash in Southampton.

Jadon Sancho struck his first international goals, with Harry Kane also on target, although the usually impeccable Three Lions captain failed to convert a second-half penalty.

Kosovo, though, forced regular mistakes from the Nations League semi-finalists, including in the first minute when a Michael Keane lapse led to Valon Berisha's opener.

Berisha would later profit again after Declan Rice gave the ball away too easily, while a Harry Maguire challenge resulted in Vedat Muriqi scoring a spot-kick.

England ultimately had too much firepower thanks to Sterling and Sancho but Southgate was under no illusions about the work to do in defence.

"It had its moments! A bizarre game really," Southgate told ITV after England extended their 100 per cent record in Group A.

"There were obvious poor errors for goals but I'm really pleased with the composure we showed.

"We had devastating attacking play throughout and we used the ball well.

"The mistakes were obvious, the errors, we have to be better. The players don't need me to tell them that.

"The outstanding parts of our play were obvious, the errors were obvious."

England return to action next month with away trips to the Czech Republic and Bulgaria.

Jadon Sancho dedicated his first England goals to his late grandmother after starring in a 5-3 Euro 2020 qualifying win over Kosovo.

England trailed in the first minute at St Mary's Stadium on Tuesday, but Raheem Sterling shone as they hit back to lead 5-1 at the break.

Sterling provided two assists for Borussia Dortmund winger Sancho in quick succession, the teenager becoming the youngest player to score more than once in a game for England since Wayne Rooney in 2004.

"It was a good run from Raheem, he found me and I slotted it home," Sancho, 19, told ITV.

"It means a lot to me personally and for my family it is a special day.

"I dedicate the goals to my nan, who was a big fan of me but has sadly passed away."

 

 

Gareth Southgate's side responded well after a Michael Keane error allowed Valon Berisha to score the first of his two goals with just 34 seconds on the clock.

"It was a crazy game. I'm delighted to score my first goal for England," said Sancho.

"The opener was a bad mistake from us but it was a great comeback."

After the restart England conceded twice more and Sancho acknowledged there are defensive improvements needed despite a fourth Group A win out of four games.

"I think we started a bit slow [after half-time]," he added. "Next time we have to pick up on that and learn from it."

Cristiano Ronaldo scored four to take his international tally to 93 goals as Portugal claimed a 5-1 win over Lithuania in Euro 2020 qualifying on a night to forget for goalkeeper Ernestas Setkus.

With Ronaldo's early penalty having been cancelled out by Vytautas Andriuskevicius before half-time, Setkus was guilty of a blooper when he fumbled a strike from the Juventus forward to again hand this year's Nations League winners the advantage.

Ronaldo soon added two more before William Carvalho added a late fifth to seal the win over Group B's bottom side.

Second-placed Portugal moved within five points of leaders Ukraine, who they have a game in hand on, with the victory.

 

The visitors got off to the perfect start when they were handed a seventh-minute penalty after Markus Palionis was penalised for blocking Joao Felix's cross with his hand.

Ronaldo made no mistake as he kept his cool from the penalty spot, firing low into the bottom-right corner to add to the goal he scored in Saturday's win over Serbia.

Portugal continued to look a threat and Jose Fonte and Ronaldo both saw efforts saved by Setkus.

And the reigning European champions were left rueing those missed chances in the 28th minute when Andriuskevicius rose highest to head Mantas Kuklys' outswinging corner in off the post.

Then, somewhat inevitably, it fell to Ronaldo to turn the match back in Portugal's favour once more - but he had more than a helping hand from Lithuania goalkeeper Setkus.

What appeared a routine strike from Ronaldo from the edge of the area with 61 minutes on the clock was fumbled by the goalkeeper before spinning up and bouncing in off his back.

Ronaldo then made certain of the points four minutes later when he swept home Bernardo Silva's right-wing delivery before the pair combined again in the 76th minute, with the ex-Real Madrid player finding the bottom-right corner from inside the box. 

Carvalho added further gloss in added time with a smart finish after the ball fell kindly to him inside the penalty area.

 

What does it mean? Portugal have fate in own hands but still have work to do

They might be the reigning champions and winners of the Nations League but Portugal still have work to do to seal automatic qualification.

This win keeps them second but leaders Ukraine remain in charge of the group and Serbia, in third, trail them by just a point.

Ronaldo still the man

It should come as no real surprise. Another season ticks by and, even now at 34, still Ronaldo continues to be the man for club and country.

Joao Felix might be the heir apparent but Ronaldo remains the one who makes Portugal tick.

Sympathy for Setkus 

The Lithuania goalkeeper is unlikely to make a bigger blunder in his career. It was just unfortunate it came on the international stage.

He should not, however, be the scapegoat for what, in all likelihood, was an inevitable loss anyway - and the score would have been even higher but for a string of saves he made.

What's next?

Portugal face Luxembourg in what will be viewed as another must-win match, while group leaders Ukraine - who also face the Euro 2016 winners in October - await Lithuania.

Kingsley Coman, Clement Lenglet and Wissam Ben Yedder were on target as a below-par France registered a 3-0 win over Andorra in Euro 2020 qualifying at the Stade de France on Tuesday.

Fresh from his two goals in Saturday's 4-1 win over Albania, Coman opened the scoring after 18 minutes with a cool finish.

Antoine Griezmann missed his second penalty in three days soon after but teed up Lenglet early in the second half to double Les Bleus' advantage, before Ben Yedder's late third.

The win means France are level on 15 points with Group H leaders Turkey, three points ahead of third-place Iceland.

France were far from their fluid best in the opening stages, with their less illustrious opponents comfortably keeping them at arm's length.

They did find a way through in the 18th minute, though, Coman latching onto Jonathan Ikone's pass, taking a touch and then clipping over Josep Gomes.

Moments after pawing away Olivier Giroud's instinctive half-volley, the Andorra goalkeeper had a moment to savour.

Moises San Nicolas pulled down Griezmann in the area in the 28th minute, but the Barcelona forward saw his resulting spot-kick superbly kept out by Gomes.

Perhaps frustrated with his side's inability to break down Andorra's stubborn defence, Raphael Varane tried his luck from 30 yards. Gomes was equal to it, though, tipping over to ensure the visitors went into the break just one goal behind.

France started the second half in more positive fashion and were rewarded in the 52nd minute when Lenglet headed home Griezmann's free-kick from six yards.

Gomes then kept out Coman's header, which looked destined for the top corner, before Moussa Sissoko thumped a header of his own against the crossbar from point-blank range.

Coman then scooped an effort onto the crossbar before substitute Ben Yedder added a third in stoppage time, slotting home after Nabil Fekir's free-kick had been parried into his path.

Raheem Sterling scored and recorded a trio of assists while Jadon Sancho hit his first England goals as Gareth Southgate's side came from behind to beat Kosovo 5-3 in Southampton. 

Kosovo led after 34 seconds of the Euro 2020 qualifier at St Mary's Stadium on Tuesday, Valon Berisha giving the Three Lions a scare, but they roared back to lead 5-1 at half-time thanks to Sterling's inspirational display.

He levelled the scores with a header and set up Harry Kane to make it 2-1 before Mergim Vojvoda's own goal, Sterling then providing assists for Sancho's two strikes in an action-packed Group A clash.

England lost their focus after the interval with Berisha netting again and Vedat Muriqi converting a penalty - a feat Kane failed to match soon after - to make the final scoreline closer than Sterling's superb showing deserved.

Kosovo were gifted an early opener when Michael Keane's loose pass allowed Fidan Aliti to tee up Berisha for his second international goal since changing allegiance from Norway.

The hosts responded well and drew level in the eighth minute, Keane heading a right-wing Ross Barkley corner back across goal for a leaping Sterling to profit from close range.

Sterling then created England's second, brilliantly turning into space on halfway and feeding Kane for a powerful finish through the legs of Kosovo goalkeeper Arijanet Muric.

England opened up a four-goal advantage before the break. Vojvoda turned a low Sancho cross into his own net before the Borussia Dortmund winger opened his international account with a quickfire double.

Sloppy play allowed Kosovo to net first after the restart. Declan Rice lost the ball on halfway and Berisha curled home his second of the game, then Harry Maguire's clumsiness enabled Muriqi to reduce the deficit further from the spot.

England should have restored a three-goal cushion but captain Kane saw his penalty pushed away by Muric while the goalkeeper - on Manchester City's books - later deflected a Sterling shot on to the post.


What does it mean? England closing on qualification

Reaching the Euro 2020 finals always looked on the cards for England but they have made light work of their competition in Group A, scoring 19 goals already and winning all four of their games, although defensive weaknesses were exposed here. 

Kosovo are still occupying second spot in the group and have every chance of reaching their first international tournament given the impressive way they carried the fight against their lauded opponents.


Unplayable Sterling at top of his game

Kosovo's open tactics played into England's hands but Sterling made the most of the time and space he was routinely given in the opposition half. On current form, few players in the world are as dangerous as the City star, who it is easy to forget is only 24 years old.


Keane at risk of losing his place

Bernard Challandes' side pressed ferociously from the first whistle and it did not take them long to force an error from Everton defender Keane. With John Stones expected to be fit for England's next fixtures Keane will likely drop out of the team, partly due to his latest mistake.


What's next?

England have an away double-header against Czech Republic and Bulgaria next month, while October's international break sees Kosovo travel to Gibraltar and host Montenegro.

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