Bulgaria welcome Northern Ireland to Vasil Levski National Stadium, Sofia, in a crunch Group C clash in UEFA Qualifying for 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Both teams enter this match locked on five points apiece and whoever loses this clash will be mathematically out of contention for the runner-up spot.
A draw in this fixture coupled with a win for Switzerland away to Lithuania would see both Bulgaria and Northern Ireland eliminated from contention.
Bulgaria have no fresh injury concerns to report after Saturday’s away loss to Lithuania as Georgi Georgiev and Anton Nedyalkov miss out with unspecified injuries.
Northern Ireland will be without Jamal Lewis after he was red carded in Saturday’s defeat to Switzerland.
- Bulgaria are unbeaten in five World Cup Qualifiers against Northern Ireland (W3, D2).
- Northern Ireland have lost two previous away World Cup Qualifiers to Bulgaria (L2).
- Three of Bulgaria’s last five goals at home have been scored in the first half.
- Ireland have failed to keep clean sheets in their last nine competitive away matches (W1, D2, L6).
- Bulgaria lost their only previous match refereed by Aleksei Kulbakov – losing 1-0 in a friendly to Russia in June.
Having produced a lacklustre performance against Lithuania on Saturday evening, Bulgaria need a huge result if they’re to keep their play-off dreams alive with a tight defensive performance and more attacking intent.
Northern Ireland meanwhile did a brilliant job of playing against Switzerland with a robust defensive counter-attacking style until Jamal Lewis was farcically sent off for taking too long to deliver a throw-in, which proved costly as two defensive gapping errors undid their excellent efforts after Lewis’ dismissal.
This though should be a game in which Ian Baraclough’s Northern Ireland can come out with an attacking style, especially with there being nothing to lose for either team because only a win will be enough to keep the faint play-off qualification hopes alive for both teams.
Bulgaria though do have more work to do and if Northern Ireland can quickly get on the front foot here despite their winless away rut in this fixture, I can see them getting a vital win although it likely won’t be enough come next month unless Switzerland suffer a disastrous slump.
Prediction: Bulgaria 0-2 Northern Ireland
Result: Bulgaria 2-1 Northern Ireland