The qualifying match for Euro 2024 between Bulgaria and Hungary (2-2) on Thursday was marred by violence between police and angry supporters protesting against the president of the football federation.
Nearly 60 police officers and football supporters were injured on Thursday evening in violent clashes on the sidelines of the Bulgaria-Hungary qualifying match for Euro 2024 in Sofia, which was held behind closed doors, Bulgarian authorities announced on Friday. According to Katia Sungarska, a spokesperson for the capital’s emergency services, “24 injured individuals were examined, with seven hospitalized for head injuries, fractures, and irritations from pepper spray,” she told AFP.
Bulgarian supporters are demanding the resignation of the federation president
The police, on the other hand, reported 33 injuries among their ranks, some of which were serious, according to deputy chief Stefan Ivanov. Additionally, 33 supporters, including “ultras,” were arrested, and the hunt for troublemakers continues, he said at a press conference, condemning the “unprecedented” incidents in this Balkan country.
The match, which was heavily secured, ended in a draw (2-2), allowing the Hungarians to qualify for Euro 2024. With only three points from seven matches, Bulgaria is at the bottom of Group G.
Supporters from across Bulgaria had traveled to demand the resignation of federation president Borislav Mihaylov, who has been in charge for 18 years. Firecrackers, smoke bombs, beer bottles, and even stones or traffic poles were thrown by participants at the gathering, and a law enforcement vehicle was set on fire.
💥 De violents affrontements entre la police et des supporters bulgares en colère contre leur Fédération ont fait, jeudi, une quinzaine de blessés en marge de la rencontre Bulgarie-Hongrie à Sofia.https://t.co/1FeYHCm8M7
— RMC Sport (@RMCsport) November 16, 2023
The police, with over 1,500 officers mobilized, used water cannons to disperse the crowd of around 4,000 people, according to official figures. Authorities had warned ahead of the match of a “high risk of public order disturbances inside and outside the stadium,” leading to the decision to hold the match without spectators.
The anger of football fans in Bulgaria continues to grow due to the national team’s poor results, as they have failed to qualify for any major competitions and have seen a revolving door of coaches over the past two decades. The last international tournament played by Bulgaria was Euro 2004 in Portugal.
The controversial president of the Bulgarian Football Federation (BFU), 60-year-old Borislav Mihaylov, had resigned in 2019 before reversing his decision. Despite a record tainted by suspicions of match-fixing and a scandal of racist insults during a match against England in 2019, this former goalkeeper was ultimately re-elected in 2021.