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England has a 'bigger' racism issue, says Bulgaria coach

02:41 SAST 2019/10/14
Raheem Sterling England 2019
With his own nation's stadium being partially closed because of issues, the coach believes Monday's opponents have larger problems

Bulgaria coach Krasimir Balakov believes England have 'bigger' racism issues than his own nation, ahead of the Euro 2020 qualifier between the two teams.

The accusation was made prior to Monday's match at Natsionalen Stadion Vasil Levski in Sofia, in which a section of the venue will be closed after incidents of racism during Bulgaria's matches against Kosovo and Czech Republic in June.

England's players were targeted with abuse during their March qualifier against Montenegro in Podgorica and there is fears they will receive similar treatment in Sofia.

But the Bulgarian boss denied there was a racism worry in his country and suggested the issues in England were a 'big problem'.

"What I can say is that I don't think we have a problem," Balakov said.

"In the Bulgarian championship, we have a lot of players of different ethnicities and skin colour. I don't think that we have this big problem like, for example, England do."

After being asked by reporters to explain, he continued: "What I meant was that in the Bulgarian championship we've not had such problems while there have been incidents in various levels of English football involving racism, which I consider something normal because it's a big country with a very diverse population.

"But we don't have this problem in Bulgaria, I can assure you of that."

UEFA has ordered 5000 seats of the Natsionalen Stadion's 46,340 capacity to be closed for the England contest and 3000 when they play Czech Republic in November.

England captain Harry Kane said the players were ready to deal with any issues that arise but was hopeful that the match would run smoothly.

"We had a meeting about things that could happen but again they might not happen," Kane said.

"There is a protocol in place but from my point of view we are here to do a job on the pitch and obviously we don't want to have to cross that bridge."

Last week, Three Lions striker Tammy Abraham suggested Kane would lead the players off the pitch if any racism occurred and they were unhappy about it.

"Harry Kane said that if it happens [racist abuse] and we're not happy with it, we speak to the player and if he's not happy, we all come off the pitch together,” said Abraham, as per the Mirror.

"It's a team thing. Don't isolate one person, we're a whole team. If it happens to one of us, it happens to all of us."